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The Quickening Maze [Hardcover]

Adam Foulds
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 3 2010
After a lifetime's struggle with alcohol, critical neglect and depression, in 1840 the nature poet John Clare is incarcerated. The asylum, in London's Epping Forest, is run on the reformist principles of occupational therapy. At the same time, the young Alfred Tennyson, moves nearby and became entangled in the life of the asylum. This historically accurate, intensely lyrical novel, describes the asylum's closed world and Nature's paradise outside the walls: Clare's dream of home, of redemption, of escape.

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Review

"A seamless blend of historical fact and fiction...Foulds's writing has a poetic intensity and his descriptions of the autumnal woods around the asylum are as piercingly keen as his insight into the minds of the patients, the doctor and his family" Daily Mail "Adam Foulds won the 2008 Costa Poetry Award, and he is a skilful poet. These talents are well displayed in his prose which, while lyrical, never grows fussy or highfalutin.' He draws a walk-on character with a few deft strokes" -- Lionel Shriver Telegraph "A work of strikingly beautiful, unforced writing" Daily Express "The chief pleasure of the book is its prose: exquisite yet measured, precise, attentive to the world" Sunday Telegraph "Fould's exceptional novel is like a lucid dream: earthy and true, but shifting, metamorphic - the word-perfect fruit of a poet's sharp eye and noevlist's limber reach" The Times

About the Author

Adam Foulds was born in 1974, took a Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia and now lives in South London. His first novel, The Truth About These Strange Times, was published in 2007 and his book-length narrative poem, The Broken Word, the following year. He was named the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year in 2008 and named as one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists 2013.

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
3.3 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poets and Poems. Oct. 13 2009
Format:Paperback
"One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" by Ken Kesey and "The Quickening Maze" by Adam Folds are the two most captivating novels I ever read about mental patients and the persons who look after them.

Foulds uses a poetical language and by poetry he tries to understand the intricate and illogical thoughts of some of the patients. He often describes nature also and uses that as a counterpart for the asylum. The infinite forest encloses the village and the asylum so that the asylum becomes a world on its own. An attempt to free one self as an individual is made impossible by the impenetrability of the forest. This symbolizes the inability of some patients ( one of the most important is the nature poet John Clare ) to understand their personal destiny. It's not that they don't see a goal in life, they just don't know how to reach it.

In the first half of the novel you get bits and pieces of several stories, each of them standing on its own with no connection with the other parts of the novel. It's almost as the language of a schizophrenic who takes pieces of several thoughts and brings them together to form a mangled and incomprehensible language. But as the novel continues everything begins to fall into place to form a story-line and a question: where is the borderline between the sane and the insane?

Based on real events in Epping Forest on the edge of London around 1840, 'The Quickening Maze' centers 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.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Impossible to follow and boring Aug. 18 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I'll have to remind myself to skip the Man Booker finalists,, this book was impossible to finish and I finally gave up about 3/4 through. There are two or more storylines, one where the people are crazy and the other about the family, you never really learn anything about any of the characters.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A delightful journey Aug. 15 2011
By Rodge TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Foulds plays around with Tennyson and his acquaintance with a man who runs an asylum and would like very much to do something else. Of course we learn something about the people in the asylum and the lines are predictably blurred between their experience and those outside.
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Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  43 reviews
39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poets and Poetry. Oct. 12 2009
By Jan Dierckx - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" by Ken Kesey and "The Quickening Maze" by Adam Foulds are the two most captivating novels I ever read about mental patients and the persons who look after them.

Foulds uses a poetical language and by poetry he tries to understand the intricate and illogical thoughts of some of the patients. He often describes nature also and uses that as a counterpart for the asylum. The infinite forest encloses the village and the asylum so that the asylum becomes a world on its own. An attempt to free one self as an individual is made impossible by the impenetrability of the forest. This symbolizes the inability of some patients ( one of the most important is the nature poet John Clare ) to understand their personal destiny. It's not that they don't see a goal in life, they just don't know how to reach it.

In the first half of the novel you get bits and pieces of several stories, each of them standing on its own with no connection with the other parts of the novel. It's almost as the language of a schizophrenic who takes pieces of several thoughts and brings them together to form a mangled and incomprehensible language. But as the novel continues everything begins to fall into place to form a story-line and a question: where is the borderline between the sane and the insane?

Based on real events in Epping Forest on the edge of London around 1840, 'The Quickening Maze' centers 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.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Victims and Survivors of Poetry June 21 2010
By Susan K. Schoonover - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
THE QUICKENING MAZE is not a lengthy book in words but is by no means a quick or easy read. Prior to receiving this book I had only the barest idea who 19th century British poets John Clare and Alfred, Lord Tennyson were. I am glad I did a little research around the basic facts of their lives before starting this novel since I'm afraid I might have found much of the text incomprehensible if I hadn't reviewed their life stories.

The book is set at a mental institution in Epping Forest near London. The asylum, High Beach, actually existed as did its director and founder Matthew Allen. Poet John Clare lived there under Allen's care for several years while he suffered from various delusions and manias. Alfred, Lord Tennyson lived nearby and though he was never an inmate of High Beach his brother Septimus who suffered from "melancholy" was. Apparently Tennyson was well acquainted with Dr. Allen as the doctor convinced Tennyson and other members of his family to invest in a money making enterprise that failed causing financial hardships for Tennyson in the years before he became famous as a poet. Various other inmates, asylum employees, gypsies and family members of the major characters make up the rest of the rather crowded cast of THE QUICKENING MAZE.

Author Foulds has talent at a writer and in a less skilled author's hands this difficult book would have been unreadable. At times the book's writing seems quite pretentious and at other points the reader is jarred by some very earthy descriptions of bodily functions. Those with an interest in Victorian British poets with "quirks" will likely admire THE QUICKENING MAZE but the book is not accessible or engaging enough for the casual reader to readily enjoy.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet . . . May 26 2010
By Roger Brunyate - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
". . . are of imagination all compact," continues Shakespeare, and Adam Foulds might well have taken this for the motto of this novel. The setting is High Beach, a mental asylum run by Dr. Matthew Allen, on the fringes of Epping Forest, East of London. The time is the late eighteen-thirties. The poets are John Clare, a laborer's son briefly celebrated for his rural verse, and Alfred Tennyson, near the beginning of his own career. All three were real figures. Clare was to be institutionalized for the rest of his life, and largely forgotten only to be rediscovered a century later. Tennyson, himself a melancholic, bought a property nearby to be close to his brother Septimus, who committed himself to the asylum. And Allen was an extraordinary figure: "chemical philosopher, phrenologist, pedagogue, and mad-doctor," in the words of his biographer; add to that inventor, entrepreneur, and bankrupt. Adam Foulds has woven these factual strands into a tapestry of the imagination, set equally in the minds of its many characters and the revolving seasons of the English countryside.

The human world of High Beach is an often confusing jumble of inmates, attendants, visitors, members of Allen's family including his lovesick daughter Hannah, together with other assorted children, neighbors, and visitors. It is difficult to keep straight, and made more difficult still when an inmate suddenly starts calling himself by a different name. But although Allen has some sadistic attendants under his unwitting command, he is an enlightened doctor who allows his patients much liberty -- so the world of nature interpenetrates everything. Foulds is at his best when closest to the countryside, as when John Clare wanders far from home as a boy in the prologue, or his several unauthorized excursions from High Beach to visit a nearby gypsy encampment. Or when one of the inmates, Margaret, has a religious vision in the woods: "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 reached out with its beautiful hands to steady itself in the mortal world, touching leaves, touching branches, and left stains of brightness where it touched."

Like Maggie O'Farrell did in THE VANISHING ACT OF ESME LENNOX and Faulkner knew before her, Foulds has discovered that the voices of madness permit a less literal approach to storytelling, in which desire and memory can play on an equal footing with fact. At its best, it is a highly evocative approach. But I am not convinced that he uses it to evoke anything very important -- not, for instance, as Pat Barker had done in REGENERATION when she placed the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen in a mental hospital against the background of the Flanders trenches. Nor is there anything quite so compelling as Clare's own lines written from captivity: "And yet I am! and live with shadows, tost | Into the nothingness of scorn and noise, | Into the living sea of waking dreams, | Where there is neither sense of life nor joys, | But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems." Foulds can paint the seascape of those waking dreams, but he cannot experience the shipwreck.

But how does one really take a sane reader into the world of madness? Part of Foulds' strategy is to erase the boundaries berween sane and insane. Shakespeare would suggest that there is not much difference between the lunatic and the poet, and with the very soft borders separating the various categories in Dr. Allen's establishment (not to mention the crazy enthusiasms of Allen himself), the two do seem to merge. But an empathetic portrayal of individual torment is really only possible when balancing on the brink, but still retaining some contact with sanity. Foulds' description of John Clare losing himself in the countryside as a boy already has the seeds of all that will become of him, both good and ill. Margaret's vision of the angel is about as far as Foulds could go and still have the reader see through her eyes. But when Clare (as he did) declares himself to be Byron or Shakespeare, the reader can only shake his head and pull back. If this novel lacks focus, as I fear it does, it may simply be because its target is beyond the reach of any lens.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Incredibly rich, multi-layered and poetic novel Aug. 26 2010
By Bluestalking Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I knew John Clare's name, but nothing at all about him before reading this novel. Tennyson I of course knew, since my M.A. is in English literature. But I had no idea the great poet's brother had been in an insane asylum, nor his relation to poet John Clare.

Of course, this is a novel, so liberties are taken. I can't assume what's historic fact and what's embellishment, but the book blends so seamlessly I had no idea what was true and what fictionalized.

It's just such lovely prose, so beautifully written. I normally pick apart every book I read; that's just the editor in me. But with this novel I'd have to really stretch to say anything about it is sub-par. If I'm really picky I could say the "romance" between Hannah and Tennyson was a bit awkward. Not just the literal age difference and what not, but something about it just didn't quite ring true to me. Hard to put my finger on exactly what, but there you have it.

I was pre-disposed to liking this novel. There's the English degree, and the fact I love, ADORE books written from the perspective of the mad. And we won't go into analysis on that, now, will we...

A good read, though. I'd recommend it.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Road Less Traveled May 27 2010
By Jill I. Shtulman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
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 and with a nod to the poet Robert Frost (who is NOT mentioned in this book), John Clare will try on various personage from the past, including Lord Byron and Shakespeare himself; his mind will travel "to where it bent in the undergrowth." Hannah will need to lose her path to find the one that has "perhaps the better claim". Matthew Allen will slip on his path and go back down one that he has already precariously traveled before, forgetting "how way leads on to way". And the famous Tennyson? He, too, will forge forward on the path that bcomes his destiny and he will be remembered "aged and ages hence". As Hannah states, "To love the life that was possible: that also was a freedom, perhaps the only freedom."
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