The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds
My year-to-date reading pace is slow, but I have a plan (children’s lit) to soon get a lot of books under my belt. This book went pretty quickly itself, but not to the benefit of the story.
Like a broken record player that alternately skips and speeds up, the narrative jerks around and doesn’t spend enough time dancing with each character. The time it does spend is often to an unfamiliar song that I can’t catch the tune of, but want to.
I liked the portrayal of Tennyson, even without knowing much about him to begin with. His was a portrayal that was served well by the skipping needle of the narrative because when it landed on him the song was deep and evocative and the mystery was appropriate. For the characters that aren’t famously historical, this approach just didn’t give me enough time to get to know them or figure out what was going on with a lot of them before the mad dance abruptly stopped.
Based on real events in Epping Forest on the edge of London around 1840, this story centres 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. Allen. For John Clare, a man who had grown up steeped in the freedoms and exhilarations of nature, who thought the edge of the world was a day’s walk away, a locked door is a kind of death.