Book Quote:

“John turned his face to the sun, the light split into beams by the branches. One of them, the size of an infant’s vague kiss, played warmly on the corner of his eye and forehead…Overhead, the weep of birds. The touch of the world. Glad of it. Yearning across it, for home. All the world was road until he was home.”

Book Review:

Review by Jill Shtulman (JUN 28, 2010)

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; he may belong outside its walls but just by a smidgin because of his gloomy constitution.

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.

The 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 The 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 reader of a satisfying experience.

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.”

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 42 readers
PUBLISHER: Penguin (Non-Classics) (June 29, 2010)
REVIEWER: Jill Shtulman
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Adam Foulds
EXTRAS: Reading GuideBooker Prize interview with Adam FouldsGuardian review of The Quickening Maze
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Another look at poetry:

The Booker Prizer winner:


June 28, 2010 В· Judi Clark В· No Comments
Tags: , , , , ,  В· Posted in: 2010 Favorites, Facing History, Man Booker Nominee, United Kingdom, y Award Winning Author

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