Summary and book reviews of The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds

The Quickening Maze

A Novel

By Adam Foulds

The Quickening Maze
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  • Paperback: Jun 2010,
    272 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Rigby

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Book Summary

Based on real events, The Quickening Maze won over UK critics and readers alike with its rapturous prose and vivid exploration of poetry and madness. Historically accurate yet brilliantly imagined, this is the debut publication of this elegant and riveting novel in the United States.

In 1837, after years of struggling with alcoholism and depression, the great nature poet John Clare finds himself in High Beach—a mental institution located in Epping Forest on the outskirts of London. It is not long before another famed writer, the young Alfred Tennyson, moves nearby and grows entwined in the catastrophic schemes of the hospital’s owner, the peculiar, charismatic Dr. Matthew Allen, as well as with his lonely, adolescent daughter, and a coterie of mysterious local characters. With remarkable lyrical grace, the cloistered world of High Beach and its residents are richly brought to life in this affecting and enchanting book.

Paperback Original

Autumn

Abigail started neatly at a walk as her mother had just smartened her, plucking and smoothing her dress into place. She had run a fingertip down Abigail's nose as she bent down with a crackle of her own dress and repeated the message to carry. But outside the door and with the sun warm through the trees and the path firm under her tightly laced boots, Abigail couldn't help it: after a few paces she broke into a run.

She ran across the garden and over into the grounds of Fairmead House, then along its side and past the pond where Simon the idiot was throwing stones; even she knew he'd been told not to do that. He looked round sharply at the sound of her footsteps just after he'd launched one. It couldn't be stopped: their eyes met at the moment it plopped in and slow circles widened across the green water. It was only the child, though. He smiled naughtily at her, knowing she wouldn't tell. She ran round the corner past Mr Stockdale the attendant whom she did not like. He was ...

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Reviews

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Though Adam Foulds draws from real personages - including John Clare and Alfred Tennyson before his tenure as Poet Laureate - it is not his reimagining of the Victorian past that ultimately stands out as much as the threading of multiple narratives and his tenacious characters, all of which elevate an otherwise competent historical fiction into a more complex study of misplaced desires... Foulds transforms relatively obscure material into an intelligent exploration of sanity, madness - and perhaps most unexpectedly - of the ways in which love defines and confirms each character's sense of purpose.   (Reviewed by Karen Rigby).

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Media Reviews
The New Yorker, James Wood

It has been a while since I have read a book as richly sown as Adam Fould's novel The Quickening Maze... It is a remarkable work, remarkable for the precision and vitality of its perceptions and for the successful intricacy of its prose.

The Boston Globe - Alec Solomita

To be sure, there are inherent drawbacks to historical fiction. To guess at the words and thoughts of long gone people risks inaccuracy at best and disservice at worst. Foulds’s Clare is a less sophisticated version of the real poet. But the essence of the man, his sweet, courageous, fine spirit, is real enough in this deeply rewarding fiction.

The Washington Post - Ron Charles

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."

Publishers Weekly

There's a manneredness to the storytelling that devotees of 19th-century British literature will appreciate.

The Sunday Times (UK)

The world [Foulds] evokes ... is conjured up with remarkable intensity and economy of means. It is impossible to guess where Foulds will travel next in his fiction, but it is safe to assume that the journey with him will be well worth taking.

The Telegraph (UK)

For a slim book, The Quickening Maze is generously peopled and Foulds’ technique, of successive short, vivid scenes, creates a world entire as the characters criss-cross each other’s paths. ... But the chief pleasure of the book is its prose: Exquisite yet measured, precise, attentive to the world.

The Guardian (UK)

Impressive ...simultaneously poised and flowing in its urgency.

The Times (UK)

Exceptional ... like a lucid dream: earthy and true, but shifting, metamorphic—the word-perfect fruit of a poet’s sharp eye and novelist’s limber reach.

Reader Reviews
Gabrielle Renoir-Large

A Gorgeous, Shimmering Book
Beginning in the late 1830s, and set over seven seasons, Adam Foulds’ Booker shortlisted novel, “The Quickening Maze” tells the intertwined stories of the “Northamptonshire poet,” John Clare, the son of a farmer; Alfred Tennyson, the man who would go...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

John Clare
The Quickening Maze is based on real events in the lives of English poets John Clare and Alfred Tennyson. Tennyson, better known as Lord Tennyson (even though he was well into his eighth decade before becoming a peer) will be familiar to most of us for a handful of his better known poems including The Charge of the Light Brigade, one of the many works written during his 42 year tenure as Poet Laureate to Queen Victoria.

John Clare But what of John Clare? Born of humble rural origins in 1793, Clare spent much of his life as a tradesman and laborer. Though he received a limited education, and did not learn a standardized grammar, he would become known as a pastoral poet and author of collections including Poems ...

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