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3.6 out of 5 stars
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3.6 out of 5 stars
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on 4 April 2015
Arrived before the deadline and was as good as I expected it to be. Adam Foulds describes madness, and being in debt, and having to be respectable and married so well.
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VINE VOICEon 14 October 2009
This historical novel is partly based on true life events, when the paths of the poets John Clare and Alfred Tennyson crossed in a random way via a mental asylum called High Beach, on the edge of Epping Forest in Essex. That sounds like a crazy plot, but this novel, which was short listed for the Booker this year, but lost out to Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, is evocatively and beautifully written by Adam Foulds.

John Clare is an inpatient at High Beach - who is slowly loosing his grip on reality, and imagines himself, and those around him, to be many different characters. He is on a desperate mission to escape into the forest that he so loved to explore in his youth, and succeeds in spending nights under the stars in the company of the local gypsies. The connection that Clare makes with them, and the empathy that each has for the other is a touching detail.

Alfred Tennyson comes to High Beach to accompany his brother, Septimus, who is a patient there. Here he encounters the founder of the institution, Matthew Allen and his large family. He causes the young passions of one of Allen's daughters, Hannah, to stir. She `walked and recited the remarkable facts to herself - a poet, tall, handsome, strong, dark - and out of her thoughts he appeared. Under the bell of her skirt she stumbled, seeing him, but continued forwards, calm, preparing her smile. What would happen? In her mind, the apex of their next encounter was, outrageously, a kiss, his large arms around her and the fierce kiss kindling where their lips touched.'

Foulds considerable descriptive powers convey the dark mystic power of the forest, and the brooding atmosphere of the asylum with great skill. We learn of dark secrets in the Allen family, and watch the money making scheme of Matthew unfold. We feel the full horror of High Beach, the desperation of its inhabitants, and the cloying atmosphere in which Allen brings up his family.

This is a beautiful novel, in which Foulds impresses with his distinctive creative style. I can't say if it should have won the Booker without reading all the other books on the short list, but for me it was certainly a more powerful and evocative read than the recently declared winner.
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on 19 September 2009
After reading ecstatic reviews and seeing this novel shortlisted for the Booker prize, I was keen to see what I made of it. I think it might well be one of those novels that you either get or you don't. Personally, I loved it. It reminded me of early Ondaatje novels (The Collected Works Of Billy The Kid, Coming Through Slaughter) and requires a similar intelligence of the reader. Like them, it is told in short, intense sections that accumulate to form the story. This means that it is a slightly more demanding read than your average Richard and Judy, one-obvious-thing-after-another bit of storytelling.
The language is strikingly beautiful, the characters and sense of period and place all solid and convincing. For putting you inside the mind of someone passing in and out of states of delusion, it's remarkable, as is the depiction of the romantic yearnings of a teenage girl. All the characters are yearning for something - Hannah for Tennyson, Dr Allen for success, Tennyson for his dead friend - but it's John Clare's yearning for love and home that is central. His plight ultimately comes to resonate as an image of the human condition: to be bereft of some original sense of wholeness and peace. It is this that makes this rich, poetically told and unusual novel profound.
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on 17 February 2015
This is a wonderful book. Well written and thought provoking.
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on 27 December 2015
A strange book and in the end satisfying and human.
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on 6 April 2015
Beautifully written prose. Story rather confusing.
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on 18 January 2010
I found this book, despite its shortness, a struggle to read, never provoking any real desire to find out what happens in the end. Nor did I find it particularly well-written. It is thankfully rare now in a Booker novel to find myself having to re-read a clumsy sentence in order to attach meaning to it. The book was patronising, both to the reader - Foulds cannot resist explaining the meanings of words he thinks might be difficult (gules, orrery, Pyroglyph) - and to the gypsies who appear from time to time in the role of noble savages, presumably to provide sharp contrast to the caricatured failings of the cardboard-cutout society characters. The storyline is weak, and putting his words into the mouths of historical characters does little to overcome this shortcoming. I have not read Foulds' poetry but given his reported skill in that domain I suspect he should stick with that.
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on 5 December 2010
Great to find an original new talent. I adored this book. It is poetic without being turgid (see my review of Anne Michaels Something or other Vault). Well done Adam Foulds. I can't wait to read your next work.
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on 4 November 2009
I did not reach page 100 of this book so perhaps I am not qualified to comment? But my God it was boring.
If you really want a good slant on the poet John Clare try reading Iain Sinclair's 'Edge of the Orison'. Starting out as a straightforward research into Clare's life, Sinclair develops his theme into more personal areas as he travels around the country following in Clare's footsteps. He has a terrific style of witing too.
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on 12 July 2010
I am not a fan of faction. This book examines the relationship between John Clare & Alfred Tennyson(both poets). More of the current bandwagon of obsession with mental institutions of the last 2 centuries...yawn, yawn! By page 4 the "twittering mice & fidgeting frogs" had put me back to the boredom I experienced when reading Longfellow at school. I am struggling through to the end, as the book is part of a reading list from a book group. Give me Boethius any time instead. This author reflects the over-literary approach of the late Malcolm Bradbury. Please stick to poetry, Mr. Foulds.
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