This story has a dizzying start: it takes “begin at the beginning” to the extreme, and starts off at the Big Bang with an apparently omniscient narrator. Soon it settles down into a family saga where the narrative moves between a present and various times in the past. The characters are lively and well-drawn but mostly pretty stereotyped. And there is a good amount of mysterious goings-on and dramatic irony.
But it also gets quite strange. Things happen in the different timelines that don’t seem to match up. It gets a bit chaotic – the trouble with multiple timelines is that we need one to be an anchor, the timeline of “what really happens”, otherwise we literally cannot know what’s going on. Atkinson did this in her subsequent novel Life After Life by arranging the timelines in a linear sequence – in Human Croquet it’s all a bit disorganised and we don’t really find out what actually happened until near the end, where some of the more interesting timelines are disappointingly explained away.
I felt that the time travel elements got a bit out of control in the second half of the book. Even so, the resolution is reasonably satisfying: we solve the various mysteries and at least some of the characters get their just deserts. Life After Life uses the time travel device really well; Human Croquet is not as good but I still enjoyed it.