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The Quickening Maze: A Novel by Adam Foulds
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The Quickening Maze: A Novel (original 2009; edition 2010)

by Adam Foulds (Author)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
7193724,709 (3.3)104
Based on real events in Epping Forest on the edge of London around 1840, The Quickening Maze centres on the first incarceration of the great nature poet John Clare. After years struggling with alcohol, critical neglect and depression, Clare finds himself in High Beach Private Asylum, an institution run on reformist principles which would later become known as occupational therapy. At the same time another poet, the young Alfred Tennyson, moves nearby and becomes entangled in the life and catastrophic schemes of the asylum's owner, the peculiar, charismatic Dr Matthew Allen. For John Clare, a man who had grown up steeped in the freedoms and exhilarations of nature, who thought 'the edge of the world was a day's walk away', a locked door is a kind of death. This intensely lyrical novel describes his vertiginous fall, through hallucinatory episodes of insanity and dissolving identity, towards his final madness. Historically accurate, but brilliantly imagined, the closed world of High Beach and its various inmates, the doctor, his lonely daughter in love with Tennyson, the brutish staff and John Clare himself, are brought vividly to life. Outside the walls is Nature, and Clare's paradise: the birds and animals, the gypsies living in the forest; his dream of home, of redemption, of escape. Rapturous yet precise, exquisitely written, rich in character and detail, this is a remarkable and deeply affecting book: a visionary novel which contains a world.… (more)
Member:librarypowr
Title:The Quickening Maze: A Novel
Authors:Adam Foulds (Author)
Info:Penguin Books (2010), 258 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:
Tags:John Clare-Fiction, Poets-Fiction, Mental illness-Fiction, England-19th century-Fiction

Work Information

The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds (2009)

  1. 00
    Affinity by Sarah Waters (librorumamans)
    librorumamans: Two different looks at institutionalized control in Victorian England.
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» See also 104 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
Weak writing. Couldve been an interesting storyline but wasnt. It's going back to the charity shop...
  starbox | Nov 27, 2021 |
I gave it up. Just got tired of it all... ( )
  RosanaDR | Apr 15, 2021 |
[This is a review I wrote in 2009]

** Poetical style of writing suits this novel about John Clare. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize**

This fictionalised story of the Northamptonshire poet John Clare is beautifully written in a lyrical prose form, which suits the maze of insanity which is John Clare's mind from the time of his voluntary incarceration at High Beach Private Asylum in Epping Forest (1837).

John Clare is not the most well known of nineteenth century poets but if you have heard of him you may know him as the Northamptonshire peasant poet, best-known for his down-to-earth poems of the natural world, influenced by folk songs, folklore and ballads. He undoubtedly had a physically hard life, labouring at various times in an inn, as a gardener, a lime burner, and in the militia. Poetry however was his passion and at the age of twenty-seven his first book of poems was published, `Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery'. Poetry alone, however, was not enough for he and his family to live on and Clare's state of mind suffered from the conflict between his need to write poetry and his need to feed and clothe his growing family (he and his wife Patty had seven children).

Although the story is fictionalised and the time spans are imaginatively played with, The Quickening Maze is historically accurate about John Clare, High Beach Asylum, Tennyson and so on. Where the novel lets itself down a little is in the assumption of a prior level of knowledge by the reader. For the book to have had a broader appeal a touch of editing and perhaps some notes on the historical background, either as a Prologue, an Epilogue or as notes would have been a useful background. Without the background knowledge I can see how, pretty poetical writing aside, this could potentially fall quite flat on the reader. Hence my 4 stars.

I personally enjoyed the novel very much and can recommend it, but to gain the most from this novel I suggest reading some background about John Clare first, and some of his poetry - one of my favourites is `Little Trotty Wagtail' but there are many more delightful poems to choose from. ( )
  ArdizzoneFan | Nov 12, 2020 |
beautiful writing, creepy rape-y hot mess shenanigans. alas!! ( )
  kickthebeat | Nov 1, 2020 |
There's nothing really wrong with this book, and I actually found a lot of it enjoyable, but it just didn't grab me. Maybe because I found so much of it predictable. Not that there was "much" to find predictable, because nearly nothing happens. ( )
  Fardo | Oct 15, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
... Without any of the clunking that is generally audible in stories featuring real people, the book focuses on Allen, Clare and Tennyson, allowing them to seem both fully imagined characters and recognisably actual figures. It's the accuracy of Foulds's writing that guarantees this - that, and his sympathy with the people he's presenting. ...
 
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Dedication
to my parents
First words
He'd been sent out to pick firewood from the forest, sticks and timbers wrenched loose in the storm. Light met him as he stepped outside, the living day met him with its details, the scuffling blackbird that had its nest in their apple tree.
Quotations
"I suspect I've made the breakthroughs I will make...After that is the long work of practice, which tires after awhile."

- Dr. Allen
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Based on real events in Epping Forest on the edge of London around 1840, The Quickening Maze centres on the first incarceration of the great nature poet John Clare. After years struggling with alcohol, critical neglect and depression, Clare finds himself in High Beach Private Asylum, an institution run on reformist principles which would later become known as occupational therapy. At the same time another poet, the young Alfred Tennyson, moves nearby and becomes entangled in the life and catastrophic schemes of the asylum's owner, the peculiar, charismatic Dr Matthew Allen. For John Clare, a man who had grown up steeped in the freedoms and exhilarations of nature, who thought 'the edge of the world was a day's walk away', a locked door is a kind of death. This intensely lyrical novel describes his vertiginous fall, through hallucinatory episodes of insanity and dissolving identity, towards his final madness. Historically accurate, but brilliantly imagined, the closed world of High Beach and its various inmates, the doctor, his lonely daughter in love with Tennyson, the brutish staff and John Clare himself, are brought vividly to life. Outside the walls is Nature, and Clare's paradise: the birds and animals, the gypsies living in the forest; his dream of home, of redemption, of escape. Rapturous yet precise, exquisitely written, rich in character and detail, this is a remarkable and deeply affecting book: a visionary novel which contains a world.

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Book description
Epping Forest, 1840. Struggling with alcohol, critical neglect and his powerful imagination, the poet John Clare is incarcerated in High Beach Asylum. At the same time, the young Alfred Tennyson moves nearby and becomes entangled in the ill-fated schemes of the charismatic asylum owner, Dr Matthew Allen. Beyond the walls lies nature, Clare’s paradise. For him, a locked door is a kind of death and Clare longs for home, redemption and escape.

Based on real events, brilliantly re-imagined, the closed world of High Beach and Clare’s vertiginous fall into madness are brought vividly to life.
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