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The Quickening Maze Paperback – 6 May 2010

3.6 out of 5 stars 59 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (6 May 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099532441
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099532446
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 189,488 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"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 novelist's limber reach" (The Times)


'The world he conjured up with remarkable intensity and economy of means' --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This slender novel is a thought-provoking, relatively quick, and relatively enjoyable read. Regarding the central character, the real-life poet John Clare, I come from a position of ignorance and it is quite possible that had I known more of him I would have found more to enjoy, or at least more to recognise. But the book is explicitly not intended as history and I think as a portrait of insanity it is effective without any prior knowledge.

The prose is at times quite luminous, and in describing the natural world Foulds has a genuine talent. Certainly he has made great effort to be poetical in his descriptions, and evidently this to widespread acclaim. However I am hesitant to add the possible heresy that at times he seems to have tried rather too hard to find the "right" adjective (often, that is, a strikingly incongruous one). I don't say this in exasperation, since in fact Foulds' vocabulary is not especially showy (though there is a whiff of ostentation), but its usage can greatly affect the flow of the narrative -- it takes a fine judgment to know when to employ some arresting terminology and when to let the sweep of the story carry the reader along. Foulds achieves beauty in the minutiae and in the countless vignettes (the scene in which a deer is eviscerated and cooked is majestic), but this does not to my mind translate into a beautiful novel. In this regard I was reminded of a previous Booker winner, John Banville's "The Sea", which I felt sure to enjoy after the opening pages, but whose pretensions ultimately dwarfed its achievements. That is an unfair judgment in this case (and maybe in the other!
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Format: Hardcover
From 1837 to 1841, John Clare, the peasant poet, was a patient in a private asylum in the Epping Forest. Clare and his wife Patty had six children and life was proving increasingly burdensome to Clare, who began to suffer bouts of severe depression, leading to alarmingly erratic behaviour and serious delusions. In The Quickening Maze, Adam Foulds has written an imaginative recreation of Clare's years in the High Beech Asylum, and while the result is firmly fictional, the picture presented is realistic and consistent with the known history.

The book is sparsely written. Foulds does not write lengthy descriptive or scene-setting passages, but each small vignette contributes to a rich picture of the cloistered life of a 19th century private asylum. This is no mad-house. The asylum is run on orderly lines by Dr Matthew Allen, a thoughtful man who likes to get to know his patients. However, the finances of the asylum are precarious and Foulds describes Allen's attempts to mix the cure of souls with mechanical invention and patents. Poor Allen finds his time increasingly spent trying to "diversify his business", but without success.

In the meantime, the patients are allowed a relative freedom, and for a while John Clare is allowed a day-pass from his confinement, a privilege he abuses by staying overnight with gypsies and returning much the worse for wear. I found the section where Clare is with his gypsy friends particularly well-written, showing the considerable research Foulds has put into this book. The detailed description of how to prepare a hedgehog for the pot is particularly enlightening.

Alas, despite his occasional forays beyond the asylum, John Clare's mind is far from peace.
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By Purpleheart TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 8 July 2009
Format: Hardcover
`He'd been sent out to pick firewood from the forest, sticks and timbers wrenched loose in the storm'.

The novel opens with John Clare, the peasant poet, as a village boy exploring the world and finding his way home to his loving mother. It ends with his long walk home to Northampton from Essex and being found by his wife Patty. John Clare has been an inmate of Mathew Allen's asylum - a man enlightened for his day but obsessed with business success and not a good businessman, as we find out in one of the narrative strands of this novel.

Foulds is a poet and imagines himself into John Clare's world very well - his day out from the asylum in the wood, and at one with nature and with the gypsies, is beautifully written and lingers in the mind. It is in sharp contrast to the confusion in the asylum itself.

Allen's daughter Hannah has her own narrative thread - finding a suitable husband - and it is gripping partly because her options are so limited. The Tennyson brothers, from a melancholy family, are staying whilst Septimus receives treatment. Alfred, later Lord Tennyson is the object of Hannah's romantic interest and she takes the initiative, visiting him:

`She thought of a question that might startle him into a renewed appreciation of her. He would know at least how advanced, how daring she was.
`May I ask you, what is your opinion of Lord Byron's poetry?'

Byron is still a daring poet for a young girl to read. She hopes to dazzle him with her intellectual and sensual abilities if not with her beauty.

Clare, in his madness, thinks that he is Byron at times, at times he thinks himself a boxer.

I am never sure about novels based on real characters and this book is certainly not fully successful from a structural perspective - insufficient narrative pull. For me, in this case Foulds' imagination wins the day; atmosphere and language triumph over the narrative issues.
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