Read The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds Online


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 occupationalBased 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....

Title : The Quickening Maze
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780224087469
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 261 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Quickening Maze Reviews

  • Vit Babenco
    2019-02-02 12:48

    Creativity and madness are close and they may flow one into the other but at times, they may be quite ruinous. The Quickening Maze is a brilliant analysis of human creative consciousness.‘May I ask you, what is your opinion of Lord Byron’s poetry?’He did indeed raise both eyebrows at that, blowing long cones of smoke from his nostrils. He answered quite wonderfully with a revelation.‘A very great deal. His poetry, well…’ Here he perhaps decided against a critical disquisition. She thought he might not think her up to it, but what he said instead pleased her just as well. ‘I remember when he died. I was a lad. I walked out into the woods full of distress at the news. It was the thought of all he hadn’t yet written, all bright inside him, being lost for ever, lowered into darkness for eternity. I was most gloomy and despondent. I scratched his name onto a rock, a sandstone rock. It must still be there, I should think.’Time is the greatest judge of art… Some names are blown by the wind of time into oblivion like fluff… And some names it carves in the rock of eternity to remain in the human memory forever.

  • ·Karen·
    2019-02-16 07:35

    This is not a dazzling, overwhelmingly entertaining sort of book, but rather one that works its magic quietly and subtly. The poet John Clare is an inmate of Matthew Allen's asylum, and Alfred Tennyson stays nearby with his melancholic brother Septimus, who is under Dr Allen's care. These are all historical figures, and part of the magic that Adam Foulds weaves is to make these people utterly real, with precise and cautious means. Foulds is beautifully, movingly sympathetic to all his characters, allowing us to feel for and with them. It is a complex symphony of different voices and perspectives, moving between the three men, Hannah, Allen's 17 year old daughter and her younger sister Abigail, and even inmates of the asylum. It shimmers exquisitely, but disturbs too.There is an interview with Foulds at the Guardian's website: trusts the reader to do a little of the imaginative work with him. Thank you Mr Foulds.

  • Talal Faisal
    2019-02-11 08:24

    Read it? I translated this book to arabic, means, I kept doing nothing for 4 months apart from reading this wonderful and fine wriiten novel.Thanks Adam Foulds

  • Lilian Nattel
    2019-01-24 11:46

    When I began this book, I sighed with pleasure, because I knew, in the first few pages, that I was in the hands of a writer who knew what he was doing. I could feel the competence, the control of language, structure and story from the start and it never flagged. The Quickening Maze is a novel about the people associated with a private insane asylum in 1840’s England: Dr. Matthew Allen, the director of the asylum, Hannah, his teenage daughter, the famous nature poet John Clare, who is an inmate, and Alfred Tennyson before he became Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Poet Laureate, whose brother is being treated there, too, as well as Margaret who fled domestic violence and found her escape in ecstatic religion. Based on historical events, the novel begins in a peaceful setting, Epping Forest, where the doctor’s progressive ideas about the treatment of the mentally ill are helping John Clare, a depressed poet who came from a peasant background. Belonging nowhere, he was briefly lauded and then out of fashion, when allowed to leave the grounds, hanging out with Roma (Gypsies) in the forest. But the doctor’s intelligence and unflagging energy find a new target, fueled by the Victorian dreams of industry. Investing in a new invention with visions of getting rich, he abandons the asylum to abusive underlings, inveigling the Tennysons into his scheme. The story kept me rapt, the writing evocative: "The wind separated into thumps, into wing beats. An angel. An angel there in front of her. Tears fell like petals from her face. It stopped in front of her. Settling, its wings made a chittering sound. It paced back and forth, a strange, soft, curving walk that was almost like dancing. It reached out with its beautiful hands to steady itself in the mortal world, teaching leaves, touching branches, and left stains of brightness where it touched." (p 126, paperback edition)"The terror of risk was that while it charged Matthew Allen, had him skimming into the future with a harsh exhilaration that felt like delight, while it filled him at every moment with the sense of his own possibility and power, if it failed, if it failed all that rushing energy simply crashed like a carriage into a ditch and there was nothing, there was humiliation, debt, imprisonment, and all that he had defied would be all that there was. That was the risk." (p 184)"The forest was darkening. Winter was not far off. The black fallen leaves, plastered down by heavy rain, were silvered here and there with frost. The tree trunks were wet. They passed the hooked, blustery shine of a holly Good snail weather." (p 207)After I finished the book, I headed straight for my computer to check out the closeness to historical fact. The story of John Clare is completely accurate. (As an aside, it’s interesting that Clare, who greatly influenced later poets, is not in The Norton Anthology. I wonder if that has to do with stigma about class or mental illness.)For a different and fascinating view of Dr. Matthew Allen and his relationship with his brother, have a look at this article.

  • Sue
    2019-02-02 08:26

    This very interesting novel covers several years in the lives of the owners and inmates of an asylum for the insane in England in the 1840s.It is the story of the nature poet John Clare who is slowly going mad, Dr Matthew Allen, the doctor charged with his care as well as the care of many other inmates, the extended Allen family, Alfred Tennyson who has brought his melancholic brother to High Beach for treatment, and staff members who vary from benign to horrific.The setting itself is a character, most often seen through John's eyes and described in varying ways from serene to gritty, elegant to macabre depending on his mental state. While this asylum is said to be one of the best of the time, we see that it is really at times running itself as Allen spends his times dreaming of "higher" pursuits, money making schemes that will make his fortune and his name. At times he appears as delusional as his patients.The most rational people seen are the gypsies who live off the land and, by the end of the story, are being driven away. They know who they are and have no pretensions.The writing is wonderful in its ability to describe things seen and felt. It is poetic; at times it is poetry as John and Alfred attempt to write with limited success. The descriptions of the walks through the field and forest are sometimes glorious and sometimes terrifying, reflecting John's mood. Fould's ability to use language to express mood was successful for this reader.I would recommend this to readers of historical fiction, poetry.

  • Geraldine Byrne
    2019-02-18 14:39

    Step away from this book. Seriously, just put it down and walk away. Forget what you've read about its gentle lyricism or the fact it made the Booker short list. Just put it down and scarper. You'll thank me later.It's not that it's badly written. In fact it's quite well written although if you are judging by some reviews you'll read you might be forgiven for expecting a lot more. But it's not bad.What it is, is pointless. It's a neatly delivered pointless interlude. There is no heart to the story, nothing but reasonably well constructed quite poetic prose. No depth, no layers, the vague attempts to lend vitality to his characters doesn't disguise the clichés and ultimately there is no reason to care what happens. To anyone.What should have resonated with pathos - the descent of the poet into madness - is sadly a boring, rather obvious walk in the forest with every aspect of the case underscored. Oh look, he's a poet who loves nature, let's have him walk around the countryside. Oh he's a bit mad, he is, let's have him do something a bit, you know, mad.And we are never given a reason to care. About any of it. It's a small enough book but oh! the exquisite boredom.Look, it's a nice day out. Or pissing rain, whatever. Anyway do yourself a favour. Get out now - you'll never get those two hours back

  • Soumen Daschoudhury
    2019-01-25 09:18

    As I raise my head from the period marking the last sentence, last word of this book, I wonder. I wonder! What did I just finish reading? A lunatic poets’ longing and desperate cry for nature, being trapped within the fenced and tethered life of an asylum; nature, the source of his creations or was it a tiring tread into the discolored faded lives of the sane in the proximity of the senseless, the insane?Rather, it’s a story of despair, of balancing and swaying on that thin line between sanity and insanity and knowing or else fooling yourself on which side of the barbed wire you exist.Madness has always been an enigma, intriguing. So I expected exactly the same from this book, madness, but alas! Neither a tragic comedy nor a comic tragedy. It is an assortment of varying degrees of hope. John Clare, a poet, now a patient at the asylum run with neglect by Dr. Mathew Allen, longs for freedom, the wilderness as he experiences amidst the gypsies, for his home. Alfred Tennyson, another forthcoming poet’s arrival at Dr. Allen’s abode due to the admission of his brother in the asylum brings forth hope to the doctor’s daughter Hannah, a chance for courtship. Tennyson’s arrival also strengthens the entrepreneurial hopes of Dr. Allen but both father and daughter are denied and deprived of the charm and blessings of Lady Luck and remain stranded in their own peripheries.Like a restless lunatic himself, the writer Adam Foulds flits from one character to another, shamelessly. But there is little to complain since he, with his immaculate writing style and like a maverick mind reader describes beautifully, in simple yet strong renditions, the nuances of helplessness, the pain and despair of each character. He is bold yet gentle with his sketches and the celebration of this camaraderie keeps you hooked on till you read the last word, to stay and share the lives of each character.Adam Foulds, through this novel seems to float aimlessly on clouds of nothingness, but as I drifted along with him, I was lost at times, but emerged happy, to be on this journey.

  • Barb
    2019-02-02 11:40

    Okay, some people are going to love this novel...I think that they are the same people who loved 'The Gathering' by Anne Enright. If you like poetry and literature that is on the crazy disjointed end of the spectrum this might be your cup of tea, sadly it was not mine.This is one of those books that you think you might be able to snarf down in half a day because it's pretty short, has a large font and lots of blank pages between the chapters. But when you get into it you see that it's the other kind of book, the one with not so many words but words that are hard to get through quickly. Some people like this style of writing, you know who you are, others do not. You can see which category I fall into.I didn't like any of these characters but was moved to weeping by the ending...I think mental illness must be one of the most difficult curses on the planet. I thought the story was interesting, the characters were interesting, but I really dislike this style of writing. It felt like there was little if any tension for the majority of the story and then suddenly the writer reveals some very disturbing events. The note I wrote to myself as I was reading says 'nothing happens and then everything happens - enough to make you sick.' I would recommend this for people who like depressing poetry and reading about what might be going on inside the mind of the mentally ill.

  • Vernon Goddard
    2019-02-17 14:42

    I was attracted by the idea of this book - essentially about John Clare one of my favourite poets, set in the asylum period which could prove interesting and written by Adam Foulds, a poet of considerable merit in his own right. So, a book to relish and enjoy. Anyone who is conversant with Clare's work and life, knows the beauty of his poetry and the horridness of his rejections and the absurdity and difficulties of his time locked away. I thought this book would add to my knowledge and possibly contribute additional factors in my understanding of Clare's life.The book is about Clare's time at the asylum surrounded by other characters who weave in/out of his life.There are the gypsies of the Forest. There is Dr Matthew Allen who manages the asylum in a reasonably sensible, humane and compassionate way. He treats his patients well, talking to them trying to understand and help. But Dr Allen has problems of his own. The asylum’s finances are in a poor state, His efforts to put things onto a firmer footing and advance his work are radical. They may work, but there is a very real risk that they may not. Meanwhile a very different poet, Alfred Tennyson, accompanies his mentally-ill brother during his stay at High Beech. And he draws the attention of Dr Allen’s 17 year-old daughter Hannah who determines to win his heart. But the stories of these characters are fragmented and do not always relate. There's a great deal going on but not sufficient detail or weight to carry it. The writing can be intense, lyrical and quite beautiful in its simplicity but it did not always suit the narrative.So I was troubled by the novel as I was reading it and thoroughly perplexed and annoyed by the time I finished it. I almost did not complete it. And so the potentially great book I thought I was going to read was spoiled in the end by a content which did not match the blurb and a style of writing I found inadequate and troublesome.

  • Jon
    2019-02-01 07:44

    A library book which I will buy and re-read with pleasure. Told in a series of vignettes, some only a paragraph or two long, others virtual short stories, spaced over a period of less than two years. We are introduced early to the main characters--the Allen family (father, mother, three daughters and son) who run an asylum for the insane in mid nineteenth century England. Their patients include the neglected nature poet John Clare, a visionary mystic named Margaret, and Septimus Tennyson, the brother of the not-yet famous poet Alfred. I suppose the main character is John Clare, whose eager and increasingly desperate wanderings open the book (in a flashback to his boyhood) and end it, as he returns (briefly, we are told) home to his wife. This is the only book I've ever read in which descriptions of what it feels like to be mad did not become frustrating and boring. Foulds writes with absolute precision and economy, not a word out of place, and every phrase perfection. Dr. Matthew Allen, the father and head of the asylum, longs to do great things both in medicine and commerce; but his ambitions outrun his abilities, and he bankrupts his own family and ruins the Tennysons, who invest in his schemes. My favorite part of the book involved Hannah Allen, the 17 year old daughter who has decided to be in love with Alfred Tennyson even before meeting him. Her excited hope and anticipation are always met with his indifference and preoccupation with other things, but for a long time she fails to notice. The best moment of the book (for me) came when another suitor proposed to her, and for the first time, she empathized with someone else--she suddenly realized that he had imagined the scene of his proposal just as she had imagined almost every aspect of her supposed future. Before our eyes she stops being a selfish teenager and becomes an adult. A wonderful scene. Many Goodreads reviewers have wondered about the book's title and referred to a line about John Clare feeling trapped in a maze with no exit. But the title is about a quickening maze, one that is coming alive. I'm sure it's a reference to section 115 in Tennyson's In Memoriam:Now fades the last long streak of snow,Now burgeons every maze of quickAbout the flowering squares, and thickBy ashen roots the violets blow.It comes towards the end of the poem, when Tennyson is finally growing hopeful for a fresher and better life after mourning for so, so long the death of his friend. The title of the book seems to me to be similarly hopeful. In spite of its serious subjects, it is a lovely and optimistic book.

  • S.
    2019-01-19 15:40

    Adam Foulds possesses a very fine writing style, and that is the high point of this book. The plot and subplots are also engaging, and the sundry characters, based on real people, are winning. The story centers on John Clare, the earthy English “peasant poet,” and his stay at an insane asylum run by Matthew Allen, a doctor/industrialist. Allen’s daughter Hannah is also a character we spend time with, as is the poet Alfred Tennyson, who resides near the asylum to be near his brother Septimus, a melancholic who is a patient there. What interested me most in the book, besides the writing, was the intermingling of the mad and the sane. John Clare, the deluded and suffering Margaret, Septimus, the poor man who thinks he’s responsible for the national debt, and others wander in and out of the scenes and you can’t help but realize they are just slight mutations of the rest of us. For the most part, there’s something tender in the mad trafficking with the normal world, and Matthew Allen seems a noble doctor. (Unfortunately he craves wider recognition, and that is his downfall.) As an example of the give-and-take between worlds, here’s a scene from the start of the book where Allen’s small daughter encounters some patients as she skips home:"…there was Margaret sitting on a stool, sewing. She liked Margaret, her thin, sharp-chinned face like a wooden toy, and wide, clear, kind eyes. She was a peaceful lady, mostly, and now Abigail walked over and leaned against her knees to be for a moment within that calm."John Clare makes an especially sympathetic character. He is one messed-up guy. Sometimes he thinks he’s Byron, sometimes Shakespeare and sometimes a boxer, or the Boxer Byron together, but at the same time John Clare, too, the poet who believes he has two wives. Even with all that confusion, sometimes he has moments of lucidity, or at least approaches to it. One rattling incident occurs when he witnesses an inmate being abused. Although he’s not terribly clear who the inmate is, his brain collects itself to realize what is happening, and his conviction that it is wrong was one of the most moving scenes in the book. It is the scene, I think, that really sets the book rolling. (page 202!) The end of the book echoes the beginning, with John Clare looking for his path home and finding it, all brilliantly written. If you are a reader who needs non-stop action I would warn you off this novel, but for those who like delicate, evocative prose it is worth it.

  • Jill
    2019-02-06 15:43

    Somewhere toward the end of this inventive and imaginative novel, peasant nature poet John Clare muses about "the maze of a life with no way out, paths taken, places been."In reality -- and much of this book IS based on reality -- each of the characters within these pages will enter into a maze -- figuratively, through the twists and turns of diseased minds, and literally, through the winding paths of the nearby forest. Some will escape unscathed and others will never emerge. But all will be altered.At the start of the novel, John Clare has been incarcerated in a progressive (for the times) institution called the High Beach Private Asylum. It doesn't take long for the reader to come to the understanding that this seemingly sane poet is not unjustly imprisoned, but is in fact, stark raving mad. Shortly thereafter, John Clare is joined by Septimus Tennyson, the mad brother of the famous Alfred Lord Tennyson, who also takes up residence.The owner of the asylum -- Matthew Allen -- displays fairness to the inhabitants, yet he has demons of his own. He has escaped a dodgy past as a debtor and has lost the respect of his parsimonious older brother. One of his older daughters, Hannah, is just coming of age and has developed an unrequited crush on Tennyson. Other characters, such as the brutal right-hand man Stockdale and the delusional and fervent Margaret-turned-Mary, drift in and out of the narrative.Quickening Maze slips slightly when it delves into a subplot about a doomed mass-produce decorative woodcarvings invention, in my opinion. It helps to know that in reality, this happened, and Tennyson lost most of his inherited fortune as a result. After reading Quickening Maze, it is nearly impossible to not go running to check out what parts of this book are based on truths. Yet it does not slip enough for me to deprive the novel of its fifth rating star.Without spoilers, John Clare will try on various personage from the past, including Lord Byron and Shakespeare himself. Hannah will need to lose her path to find a new one. Matthew Allen will slip on his path and go down one that is far less traveled. And the famous Tennyson? He, too, will forge forward on the path that is his destiny. As Hannah states, "To love the life that was possible: that also was a freedom, perhaps the only freedom."

  • Jane
    2019-02-07 15:36

    “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. Walking towards the woods, the heath, beckoning away. Undulations of yellow gorse rasped softly in the breeze. It stretched off onto unknown solitudes.He was a village boy and he knew certain things, He thought that the edge of the world was a day’s walk away, there where the cloud-breeding sky touched the earth at the horizon. He thought that when he got there he would find a deep pit and he would be able to look down into it and the world’s secrets.”Lot of things drew me towards The Quickening Maze: an intriguing concept, a striking cover, and it was shortlisted for last year’s Booker prize. But it was those lovely opening paragraphs that drew me in. I never could resist a well written passage about man and nature.The child who stepped out into the wood grew up to be the poet John Clare. I didn’t know his work, but I am very pleased that this novel has steered me towards it. Life in the Epping Forest with his wife and their six children became a struggle. He suffered bouts of severe depression, his behaviour became increasingly erratic and he had serious delusions. Eventually he is admitted to the High Beech Asylum. Dr Matthew Allen runs the asylum in an extraordinarily humane and compassionate way. He treats his patient well, talking to them trying to understand and help. It’s a refreshing change from the usual portrayal of Victorian institutions. Patients are allowed a relative freedom, but it is a freedom that Clare abuses. And his forays do not bring him peace, but his mental health deteriorates still further. It’s a vividly portrayed and heartbreaking story. And Dr Allen has problems of his own. The asylum’s finances are in a poor state, His efforts to put things onto a firmer footing and advance his work are radical. They may work, but there is a very real risk that they may not. Meanwhile a very different poet, Alfred Tennyson, accompanies his mentally-ill brother during his stay at High Beech. And he draws the attention of Dr Allen’s 17 year-old daughter Hannah who determines to win his heart.I know nothing of the real stories that Adam Foulds has built his fiction upon, but nothing jars. Clare and Tennyson do not meet – that might have stretched credulity – they simply pass through the same place.All of these stories unfold in lovely, sparse prose, moving with the changing seasons. There is much to praise, many wonderful details, lovely descriptions of nature, and yet this book didn’t quite reach the heights I had hoped for.The trouble I think was this: the multiple storylines and the sparse writing didn’t offer anything to hold on to. And all of the movement between characters held up any forward momentum. No one element was wrong, but the way that they came together didn’t quite work.And so I found a good book where I had hoped for, where there was the potential for, a great one.

  • Vanessa Wu
    2019-01-27 11:22

    Adam Foulds is a terrific writer. I read an article by him on how to write description and it was so brilliant that I immediately bought this novel.I'm not going to share the article with you because if you read it you will instantly be able to write brilliant descriptions in your novels and that would give me too much competition while my own career is floundering.Oh, all right, then. You've twisted my arm. You're right. Novel writing shouldn't be competitive. We should all help each other to be brilliant. This article shows that Adam Foulds is very good at appreciating other novelists. But how good is he at writing a novel himself?I have some reservations about that. The descriptive passages in The Quickening Maze are vivid and beautiful. The story unfolds in a series of intense vignettes. It's a poignant story, deeply imagined, and rendered in accurate detail.But I sensed a lot of fear in the way it was written. The author, rather like the character who had to be tied down and given an enema, was afraid to evacuate.Ironically, this section, when Mr Francombe is given a clyster and “wept with disappointment as an astonishing quantity of shit bloomed from him across the table,” was one of the most fluent, engaging and sustained pieces of narrative in the whole novel. I forgot for a moment that I was reading the work of a poet.The theme of clenching occurs later. The doctor himself, Matthew Allen, is guilty of it.“When Matthew Allen had the idea he stood up out of his chair. ... His body clenched with excitement, as though gripping the thought inside him so as not to lose it.”I think the author is also clenching. Come on, Adam! Loosen up! Don't be afraid of showing us your shit. This approach might improve the erotic passages which, though not bad, are terribly restrained and far from arousing.

  • Hally
    2019-01-31 07:36

    This book is all about the writing style, so beautiful it draws you in straight away. My favourite passages include;Our introduction to the mentally ill poet John Clare, the most poignantly presented character in the book;He lifted the blanket, swung his softening white feet onto the clean wood floor, and stood up, and immediately wanted to lie back down again and not lie back down again and go and not go anywhere and not be there and be home.The completeness of this metaphor...Matthew Allen's powers of immersion were prodigious. Like a sea mammal, he disappeared down into his new element for hours. He surfaced, was loud and cheerful and hungry, and then vanished again.This passage reminded me slightly of my babe Tess's (of the D'urbevilles) existential musings;Hannah was suddenly, surprisingly, angered by this. She didn't like the thought of people out there moving independently, meeting and having conversations she would never hear, not thinking of her. It killed her, made a ghost of her.All in all a beautiful quick read that demonstrated to me how to perfectly inhabit many different characters' point of view.UPDATE:I was lucky enough to attend a writing seminar with Adam Foulds today, and he articulated some more things I loved about this book in a way I didn't. He said that ''although The Quickening Maze is a historical novel, it doesn't fetishize it's pastness'', which I agree with and which explains why I loved it so much despite historical fiction not being my usual genre of choice. Despite being set in 1840, it feels in some way as though it is happening today.

  • Eric
    2019-01-19 08:34

    The Booker Prize 2009 disappointed me with its runaway winner, but per my goodreads star allocations, The Quickening Maze ran circles around Wolf Hall...and in doing so took much less time.Here is a fragile treatment of Matthew Allen's "insane asylum" during a rough time period when John Clare and a far more widely hailed Alfred Tennyson were both on site, the latter to stay near his troubled brother and not because he was admitted as insane or disturbed himself. It should also be noted that Clare and Tennyson do not interact in this novel.It's a rare storyteller who can identify some of the more disturbing elements of mental conditions and there are a handful of scenes where Adam Foulds hits that point. He should be commended for not taking too much of the story to identify this weakness (see Samantha Harvey's The Wilderness for that kind of book). For the most part, Maze is told in a very close third person that roves between characters. Clare's shifting personalities are a good enough indication of what it must have been like to be "imprisoned" under doctor's orders. His last hurrah, however, suggests that even the lowly conditions of Allen's institution were not the worst option for a patient with proven mental illness.

  • Sharon Bakar
    2019-01-20 11:18

    I met Adam Foulds recently at an arts festival in Kuala Lumpur and was lucky enough to do a workshop with him on creating character. I felt a bit ashamed of myself that I hadn't read this book already (especially as I usually read the Booker shortlist, especially as he agreed to read at the event I organised).I thoroughly enjoyed this novel - the writing was gorgeous, particularly rich in details of the natural world, and had me wanting to reread passages. He has recreated a small slice of history around High Beach Asylum in Epping Forest, run by Dr Malcolm Allen. The poet John Clare is incarcerated there, and Alfred Tennyson is renting a cottage close by since his brother Septimus is also a patient. I had never given much thought to the men behind the poetry, but Foulds opened a window for me into their lives and I found myself wanting to read beyond his novel to find out more about them. (Honestly, did Tennyson smell?) Foulds has so much sympathy for his characters and does so well depicting their inner lives, including the workings of madness. The narrative, which weaves together the stories of several characters is very well handled.

  • Tony
    2019-02-05 10:28

    Foulds constructs a historical fiction in which characters explore existential possibilities that open and close, trying to break out of the maze that confines them -'the maze of life with no way out, paths taken, places been'. Asylum inmates John Clare and Margaret move in and out of madness, struggling with inner torments and worldly constraints. Mathew Allen, Asylum owner, is drawn by a propensity to gamble into investing his own and other's money in new technology, leading to his economic and physical ruin. Allen's romantically inclined daughter, Hannah, seeking to escape her mundane existance contrives a love affair with Alfred Tennyson, but settles eventually for the stability offered by marriage to a successful businessman. Alfred Tennyson is portrayed as never settled, never fully involved with the world of human intercourse, suseptable to meloncholia, always seeking inspiration that will fuel his poems. Perhaps it is poetry that offers a way out of the maze. Certainly, it is Fould's poetic rendering of this depressing human landscape that lifts the prose and captivates the reader - at least it did this reader.

  • Elizabeth
    2019-02-18 13:41

    Madness is always an interesting read. This novel is focused on a portion of the life of the "rural" poet, John Clare that was spent in an asylum in Essex in 1830s. John Clare, from humble beginnings, had some success with his early work. However, when the novelty had worn off, this immensely gifted writer experienced isolation and hardship, and finally became insane, spending some of his life in Dr. Matthew Allen's High Beach private asylum.Alfred Lord Tennyson's brother was institutionalize there too and the young Tennyson stayed near by to lend support to his brother. Tennyson becomes the object of Matthew Allen's teenage daughter's interest and fantasy adding another layer of characters to this novel. Adam Foulds' blend of true and invented characters and their inner life masterfully illustrates the general life of the asylum, the lives of the patients and the lives of those helping them. A shortlisted Booker novel, The Quickening Maze "illuminates the issues of our own era" says author Adam Foulds and I have to agree.

  • Derek
    2019-02-17 14:29

    How do you even review a book like this. This 'poetic novel' totally defies any literary style I've ever read, and that's saying something. There is such poise and keenness in pace, driving us through the book's metamorphic soaring of the characters, versus themselves, versus a compelling setting, that the build-up and eventual pay-off left me totally satisfied. I'll be the first to admit it, even after finishing this book, I still don't know what it was supposed to be about, there's no visible plot, but the well-rounded characters and the brilliant writing( which is exceptional to say the least, it reads like a lucid-dream) make up for the lack of plot. But who needs plot anyway? Right?This is the first Adam Foulds I've read, it definitely won't be my last.

  • Sanaa Shaltout
    2019-01-25 08:28

    نجمة واحدة فقط لشاعرية جون كلير .. الرواية لم تعجبني مستفادتش منها حاجه ولا حتى كانت مجرد قراءة للمتعة بالعكس ممله وما المتاهة في كل ما قرأت ؟؟ لا أعلم!!

  • Ron Charles
    2019-01-24 09:45

    While a quartet of literary gladiators battled for the Booker Prize last year, a young poet sat on the far edge of the shortlist looking on. Nobody thought Adam Foulds had a chance against Hilary Mantel, A.S. Byatt, Sarah Waters or J.M. Coetzee for England's most prestigious literary award. The bookies called "The Quickening Maze" a "rank outsider," and almost everyone bet correctly on Mantel's spectacular story about Thomas Cromwell. But while all the other books on the shortlist were published in the United States months ago -- several climbed up our bestseller list in 2009 -- Americans have had to wait more than a year to see the underdog for themselves.That tardiness seems wholly appropriate for this curious historical novel about a collection of oddballs who stepped to the music of a different drummer. Foulds draws us into Epping Forest in Essex around 1840. In those ancient woods, a progressive doctor named Matthew Allen set up a mental asylum called High Beach. By treating his patients with respect and allowing them a measure of freedom and useful work, he hoped to calm their nerves and return them to the rhythms of normal life.Early in the novel, for instance, we see Dr. Allen teaching a "lunatic" how to chop wood with an ax. (Don't try this at home.) Violently deranged people were still kept restrained in a separate building -- you'll never forget the emergency enema scene -- but as much as possible, his patients ate and interacted with the doctor's family on a daily basis. Indeed, after a visit to High Beach in 1831, Thomas Carlyle's wife described the asylum as "all overhung with roses and grapes and surrounded by gardens, ponds and shrubberies without the smallest appearance of constraint." It was, she claimed, "a place where any sane person might be delighted to get admission."Okay, that's just crazy talk, but Dr. Allen's asylum serves as the darkly enchanted setting for "The Quickening Maze." In this graceful blend of history and fiction, Foulds moves through a year-and-a-half when two important poets fell under the influence of the magnetic doctor. The first poet you know, Alfred Tennyson, but it's unlikely you know this weird chapter of his life: Around 1840, depressed by the death of a close friend, Tennyson visited High Beach and formed a disastrous partnership with Dr. Allen.The other poet is not nearly so famous, but he plays the larger role in this impressionistic novel. John Clare was the son of a farm worker who managed to get a book of his verse published in 1820 when he was 27 years old. He wrote voluminously, and his poetry attracted good reviews, but by the mid-1830s he was desperately poor and schizophrenic, claiming to be Lord Byron and Shakespeare. Friends eventually directed him to High Beach, where he lived for four years of further decline, before making a grueling 80-mile walk with no food back to his home in Northborough."The Norton Anthology of English Literature" that I used in college dedicated a scant four pages to Clare's joy-filled peasant poems. But his reputation has risen considerably since then, particularly with the publication in 2003 of Jonathan Bate's celebrated biography and a new collection of his verse. Bate makes the case that "Clare achieved a technical accomplishment, a range of styles and subject, a distinctiveness of voice and visionary power unmatched by anyone of his class before or since." Foulds's novel can't provide the historical depth or breadth of Bate's biography, but its finely tuned sympathy will bring you close to the soul of an exuberant poet."The Quickening Maze" covers seven consecutive seasons, a structure that reflects Clare's close attention to the natural world. Disparate lines of the plot run through strange, loosely connected moments. We see the patients consumed with their own manias, such as Margaret, an anorexic preserving her body for Christ, or George, who believes he's solely responsible for the ever-growing national debt. (Where is George when we need him?) These are difficult characters because they're so easy to play for laughs or sentimentality, but Foulds conveys the profound loneliness of mental illness, the anxiety of being at least partially aware of one's own peculiarity.That's particularly true with poor John Clare, who craves literary respect in London and wild freedom in the woods, but neither is possible as he's increasingly ignored by publishers and restrained by doctors. The novel's most moving scenes show him wandering around Epping Forest, falling in with a band of Gypsies whose nomadic life is equally endangered by the industrial forces transforming England. "It was common land a few months back," a Gypsy woman tells him, "and what grew and bred on it was common as God's air. Now it's the railway's and the boys are gaoled. And you could only tell it from signs they couldn't read, not having the art." His only real happiness comes during boisterous episodes of madness when his stomach is full of roasted hedgehog and he challenges men to boxing matches he can't win.The success of this story rests entirely on Foulds's voice, which perfectly captures Clare's mind. Listen as he describes the poet spending a night with his Gypsy friends: "He loved lying in its lap, the continuing forest, the way the roots ate the rot of leaves, and it circled on. To please himself, to decorate his path into sleep, he passed through his mind an inventory of its creatures."Another story line, far lighter and more comic, follows Dr. Allen's teenage daughter as she tries to woo Tennyson while he's "sinking into the grief that will make him famous." Nearsighted, smelly, deeply depressed, he's a bizarre object of affection for a romantic young woman, but the pickings are pretty slim in an asylum, and teenage crushes are a kind of insanity anyhow. In fact, by the end, everybody seems to be staking out a spot on the spectrum of mental illness. What species of madness leads Dr. Allen to imagine he could make a killing with a wood-carving machine? And why does Tennyson sink his entire savings into the doctor's ridiculous scheme? These are not questions the novel can answer, but like the mystery of John Clare's wondering spirit, they're all portrayed here with arresting beauty.

  • Emily-Jo
    2019-02-01 09:20

    A truly surprising book. Every time I picked it up, I thought, why am I reading this? I have no interest in these topics. And then, three hours later, I would put it down. How did I read that book for three hours? I would say. I’m not interested in anything that’s happening in it, which is to say, very little is happening in it. And then I would do the same again. I would find myself rushing up to bed at night to read more of it. Opening it with enormous, if slightly puzzled excitement on the train to and from work. I fell in love with it. I saved more quotes from it than I have any other book since The Line of Beauty - possibly more than that, I haven’t actually counted. But Foulds’ prose is delicious, loaded with stunning imagery he throws easily at the page, as if he has it to spare in endless supply. He is never showy. It’s all very down to earth, very unassuming, and absolutely perfect.A full five stars.

  • Camilla Zahn
    2019-02-03 12:41

    I've found confusing the amount of characters and the back and forth between them, and kinda hoped something bigger to happened. BUT, it is still a very good book, the descriptions of the forest and the seasons changing is remarkable. It has nice quotes and it made me think about the point of what is truly freedom, which I think is one of the main points of the book.

  • Courtney Johnston
    2019-01-25 12:18

    In this very quiet, very beautiful book Adam Foulds takes a historical moment, replete with well and lesser-known historical personages, and breathes radiant life into it.Foulds takes as his subject the private mental asylum run by Dr Matthew Allen at High Beach, Epping, where in the late 1830s the 'peasant poet' John Clare - by that time already passing out of fashion - is an inmate. Septimus Tennyson - Alfred Tennyson's brother - is a fellow inmate; Tennyson is not yet Lord Tennyson, the Poet Laureate, but still a young man mourning the death of his intimate friend Arthur Hallam, who died four years earlier.All three are real personages - the asylum really existed, Clare really was an inmate (and really did, famously, escape and walk home, nearly killing himself); it really was run by Allen, who really did have a history of mad schemes and debt, who really did enlist Tennyson in yet another scheme (a machine that would mechanically turn wooden decorations) that led to Allen's bankruptcy and Tennyson's own financial imperilment. Foulds tells a story however that feels new and fresh, not in the least a stately or spectacular re-enactment. Over the course of seven seasons we follow different residents at High Beach - Allen's euphoria and eventual desperation over his invention; Clare's gradual descent deeper and deeper into madness; Tennyson's slow brewing of the great lamenting poems that would make him famous; Allen's outspoken daughter Hannah's pursuit of Tennyson; the religious ecstasy of Margaret/Mary, who escaped a violent husband and enters into a pact with God. Foulds shows us both intimate, sometimes even funny moments, such as Hannah's flustered attentions to Tennyson, and then her humouring of another suitor's flustered attentions towards her. And he shows us frightening and brutal scenes, often set in the part of the asylum Allen (by all accounts a tolerant man, who tried to heal his patients through conversation and preaching) does not visit, where inmates are beaten and raped. Each of the key characters is granted their own arc, and slowly attended to throughout the book: Foulds doesn't stage his scenes, but seems almost to observe these happenings.Eschewing drama for observation, Foulds' language is beautiful. When Margaret has a visitation:The wind separated into thumps, into wing beats. An angel. An angel there in front of her. Tears fell like petals from her face. It stopped in front of her. Settling, its wings made a chittering sound. It paced back and forth, a strange, soft, curving walk that was almost like dancing. It reached out with its beautiful hands to steady itself in the mortal world, teaching leaves, touching branches, and left stains of brightness where it touched.When John Clare meets a group of gypsies in the forest, and watches them butcher a deer:The gullet was separated and the weasand was drawn from the windpipe. They cleared the chest of entrails. The heart and lungs were snicked out and placed in a bowl, then the long rippled ropes of the intestines were hauled out and dropped into the trench. Working from the back, the chuck, saddle and loin portions were removed from the ribcage and spine in one piece, both sides together like a bloody book the size of a church Bible.When Clare is beaten in the asylum:Stockdale drew back his right hand and threw his fist into John's face. He saw the attendant's knuckles suddenly huge, big as the palings of a fence with creases of shadow between them as his eye was struck, a vivid visual arrest he was still pondering when the second shadowy blow swum like a pike towards him and knocked him out cold.'The Quickening Maze' could be a heaving mass of tensions: class, sex, poetry, money, power. Foulds' radiant language doesn't obviate these tensions, but he treats them not with a lightness but a coolness, a calmness, that lets the human stories hold us rather than being used as symbols.

  • Leon
    2019-02-10 14:48

    Adam Foulds’s first book of fiction The Truth About These Strange Times garnered very favorable reviews, and won the Betty Trask Award 2007. This second one, The Quickening Maze is just as successful, even more so when it got shortlisted for the Booker.It is a historical fiction, just like his other shortlisted Booker candidate Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. But, unlike it, it is shorter, about a quarter of the length. But, like that booker winner again, the writing is exquisite. Just look at these two examples:Small birds, tit mice … flew off together in a pretty wave of magic.The thick leaves purred and bounced under sparkling strings of waterThey could just fit right into a poem. Which is not unusual, because first and foremost Foulds is a poet, and a prize-winning one, at that. He won the 2009 Costa poetry award for The Broken Word, a narrative about the Mau Mau uprising, in poems.Again, another comparison with Wolf Hall: his sentences are just as short and pithy. It is as if these two writers have modernized the historical written style while making it relevant to the feel and the mood of those periods. While Wolf Hall’s period is way older, Foulds’s is the 19th century. However, do not presume that this is Fould’s written style. If you read his other book, you’d find the style there quite different, very modern and contemporary.The story of The Quickening Maze concerns mainly the famous John Clare, a pastoral poet. He is kept in a mental hospital High Beach run by one Matthew Allen. We also meet another famous poet Alfred Tennyson, on whom the doctor’s teenage daughter Hannah has set her sights. Unfortunately, he is short-sighted and vain enough to not wear glasses. He is in - or near - the asylum because of his brother Septimus, the true patient.As an institution, High Beach can be deemed quite opened or lax - John is able to venture out into the nearby woods. There he happily consorts with the gypsies, who poach the forest’s game. Only when he returns looking the worse for wear after a boxing match that the rules are tightened and he is locked up, for his own safety. Throughout the book we are shown instances of Clare’s worsening mental state: he sometimes thinks he’s Byron, or even Shakespeare, or a boxer Jack Randall.At times when the story leaves Clare, we see what else is going on in the institution. The doctor Matthew has ideas for a machine that can carve wooden patterns. He solicits capital from Tennyson, who foolishly agrees to contribute. When things sour, the family has to sell of the furniture and other belongings, to pay for debts.We also see another ugly side of the place. One of the keepers abuses the patients, taking sexual advantage of a female who thinks she is Mary of the Bible. Clare discovers him one day, and threatens to expose him to the doctor, but he is beaten for this. In the end, John is rid of the place when he takes a final outing into the forest with an intent to walk all the way back home, up into north, to his wife, and to Mary, whom he believes is still alive.This is a very well-written book, with a good pacing of the various stories, of John Clare, Hannah, Tennyson, and the doctor. Definitely re-readable, if only to savour again the poetic feel of the writing.

  • Marc Kozak
    2019-02-01 15:39

    The people who hand out Booker prizes love them some historical fiction, but as long as they are of the quality of Thousand Autumns, Wolf Hall, and now this, I don't mind at all. This is definitely one of the more interesting situations: 19th century nature poet John Clare is stuck in a mental institution in England, as another poet moves nearby and becomes invested in the doctor's get-rich schemes (and daughter). The story switches perspectives between some of the other crazy inmates, the doctor, the daughter, pretty much every character. It all works thanks to the uniqueness of their situation. They are all trying to escape, whether it's Clare from the institution, the doctor from his not-so-interesting-anymore profession, the daughter from a horrible place to grow up at, or the other poet, Alfred Tennyson, from the ghosts of his dead friend.Foulds, a poet, provides some gorgeous language, saving the better lines for Clare's perspective on nature. However, Foulds definitely favors keeping the narrative moving, and his poetic touches never get old, resulting in a quick, light read that leaves you thinking, "man, that guy can write." There are some moments when he uses a more modern phrase that sounds awkwardly out of place for a 19th century setting: there was one instance of using the word "arse" that made me stop reading for a moment. Not that they didn't use that word in 1837, it just didn't seem to fit with the mostly prim and proper language. Complaints like that are nitpicky - again, Foulds can definitely write.Some of the most interesting bits were when you got a look at how an early mental institution operated. Other than the really dangerous ones, most of the inmates just walked around normally, being outside, doing yard work. Foulds didn't spend hardly any time decsribing any of their treatment. It just seemed like they were all at camp for the summer, except when summer was over, they just kept staying there. The crazier patients stayed at a difference house, which was the place of some of the darker scenes: patient abuse by the orderlies, organized fights, people screaming and banging, some graphic sex and poop scenes, but our main characters were the educated sort (including Clare), so most of the story was pretty dignified.Some people seem to have had trouble with the switching perspectives, but once you get the main characters down, it's not really that hard to follow. I had a great time reading this, which was somewhat surprising given my dislike for poetry. Again, it's to Fould's credit that he makes the narrative first and the poetry second, resulting in a very enjoyable read.

  • Laura
    2019-02-13 08:48

    I hadn´t read a contemporary novel in a while and I approached this one with excitement. The feeling was enhanced by recently watching the BBC history series "Regency: Elegance and Decadence" and being able to see there John Clare´s family cottage and tomb -typically, not on the side of the church graveyard where he wished it would have been-.This is a sad, bleak story, told in a highly poetic and symbolic style but with -I feel- a lazy structure. If I had only a little time to write a novel, if I could only sit down for one hour after dinner, I would write it like this, devoting a couple of pages or a few paragraphs to each of the many characters and letting the story develop chronologically, as an accummulation of ruminations and impressions. The events are presented, rather than narrated, and these are relatively few. Aside from the obvious squalor and misery of a nineteenth-century sanatorium, we have a failed capitalist enterprise, a couple of infatuations, a successful if unromantic proposal (the girl agrees partly so her steadfast suitor´s little fantasy can become true; in this way at least his dreams are possible, when hers weren´t), and the deterioration in the condition of various inmates. The doctor is tired of the mad, and concocts a plot to try to escape them, as much as they attempt to escape him.The books is not so much about John Clare, really, but the pages relating to him were my favourite ones, in particular the long walk home, and the echoes of his future life bring an added pathos. Still, Foulds must have assumed that his readers would not be driven to google Clare and delve into his poetry. He must have lacked confidence in his work, or maybe in the general reader, which is a shame because I, for one, intend to find out more about "the peasant poet".

  • Texbritreader
    2019-02-07 09:47

    In this excellent novel recounting the madness of poet John Clare and his stay at the progressive asylum of Dr Matthew Allen; we meet a host of others, the isolated family of Dr. Allen, assorted inmates with a variety of troubles and the poet Alfred Tennyson and his brother, the melancholic Septimus. Though fictionalized the author tells their stories deftly and with deep insight, creating fully realized characters without betraying the actual people on which they are based.The story evolves gently, with the changing of the seasons, taking us from the early stages of Clare's mental unraveling to his final descent into irreversible lunacy. Foulds manages to strike an authentic note in his imagining of Clare that shows both a genuine understanding of the poets own lyric voice and an empathetic rendering of his inward mental anguish. His depictions of the youthful Tennyson still mourning his friend Arthur Hallam, the strangely compelling Dr. Allen bored with his role as a physician and still looking to make his fortune and Allen's husband hunting daughter Hannah are equally adept.I was impressed at the amazing flow of the narrative; it moved with a rare rhythm and inevitability especially since the point of view cycles repeatedly through the numerous characters. The writing is wonderfully smooth; seemingly without a single unnecessary word. The author has managed to tell an interesting tale while exploring the ideas of identity and sanity in art and life.

  • Tony
    2019-02-13 09:45

    Foulds, Adam. THE QUICKENING MAZE. (2009). ****. I haven’t come across this English writer before, but the banner on the front of this book told me that it had been a finalist for the Man Booker Prize. That’s enough for me to give it a try. It’s an historical novel about a short period in the life of Tennyson when he has taken his brother to a lunatic asylum on the edge of London. He then takes up residence in a cottage near the institution to be near him. Tennyson himself has his own problems, but they are not severe enough to make him an inmate. The plot centers around John Clare, an inmate at the asylum, and known throughout England as “the nature poet.” Clare suffers from delusions that he is someone else – actually several other people, and creates and lives in several alternative life settings. Although the two poets become acquainted, this is not the only relationship that develops. The director of the asylum, Dr. Matthew Allen, is also involved in his own worlds of delusion, and moves in a variety of directions, seeking the places where he can make his fortune. There are several female inmates in this story, too, that get into relationships with Allen and Clare. Not to be outdone, Clare’s daughter also gets to play a role in this story. There is a constant shifting of narrators and points of view in this novel, that tries to relate sanity to madness and to better define the large grey area that exists between the two. Recommended.