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The Quickening Maze

3.14  ·  Rating details ·  2,388 ratings  ·  347 reviews
Based on real events in Epping Forest on the edge of London around 1840, The Quickening Maze 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 ...more
Hardcover, 261 pages
Published May 7th 2009 by Jonathan Cape
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Vit Babenco
Jun 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Creativity and madness are close and they may flow one into the other but at times, they may be quite ruinous. The Quickening Maze is a brilliant analysis of human creative consciousness.
‘May I ask you, what is your opinion of Lord Byron’s poetry?’
He did indeed raise both eyebrows at that, blowing long cones of smoke from his nostrils. He answered quite wonderfully with a revelation.
‘A very great deal. His poetry, well…’ Here he perhaps decided against a critical disquisition. She thought he mig
Bionic Jean
The Quickening Maze promised to be such a good read, tailor-made for me. An award-winning novel about the poets, Alfred, Lord Tennyson and John Clare, set in Epping Forest, among the trees which I love. Epping Forest is an ancient woodland which straddles the border between Greater London and Essex. It is a protected woodland area of conservation, and where it is left alone, a little paradise; a pastoral haven of natural beauty:

Part of High Beach, Epping Forest

The novel takes place at High Beach
Jun 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: brits
This is not a dazzling, overwhelmingly entertaining sort of book, but rather one that works its magic quietly and subtly. The poet John Clare is an inmate of Matthew Allen's asylum, and Alfred Tennyson stays nearby with his melancholic brother Septimus, who is under Dr Allen's care. These are all historical figures, and part of the magic that Adam Foulds weaves is to make these people utterly real, with precise and cautious means. Foulds is beautifully, movingly sympathetic to all his characters ...more
Roger Brunyate
Mar 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet…

". . . are of imagination all compact," continues Shakespeare, and Adam Foulds might well have taken this for the motto of this novel. The setting is High Beach, a mental asylum run by Dr. Matthew Allen, on the fringes of Epping Forest, East of London. The time is the late eighteen-thirties. The poets are John Clare, a laborer's son briefly celebrated for his rural verse, and Alfred Tennyson, near the beginning of his own career. All three were real figures.
Talal Faisal
Sep 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Read it? I translated this book to arabic, means, I kept doing nothing for 4 months apart from reading this wonderful and fine wriiten novel.
Thanks Adam Foulds
Geraldine Byrne
May 06, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: booker

Step away from this book. Seriously, just put it down and walk away. Forget what you've read about its gentle lyricism or the fact it made the Booker short list. Just put it down and scarper. You'll thank me later.
It's not that it's badly written. In fact it's quite well written although if you are judging by some reviews you'll read you might be forgiven for expecting a lot more. But it's not bad.
What it is, is pointless. It's a neatly delivered pointless interlude. There is no heart to the s
This very interesting novel covers several years in the lives of the owners and inmates of an asylum for the insane in England in the 1840s.
It is the story of the nature poet John Clare who is slowly going mad, Dr Matthew Allen, the doctor charged with his care as well as the care of many other inmates, the extended Allen family, Alfred Tennyson who has brought his melancholic brother to High Beach for treatment, and staff members who vary from benign to horrific.

The setting itself is a characte
Lilian Nattel
Jun 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing
When I began this book, I sighed with pleasure, because I knew, in the first few pages, that I was in the hands of a writer who knew what he was doing. I could feel the competence, the control of language, structure and story from the start and it never flagged.

The Quickening Maze is a novel about the people associated with a private insane asylum in 1840’s England: Dr. Matthew Allen, the director of the asylum, Hannah, his teenage daughter, the famous nature poet John Clare, who is an inmate,
Soumen Daschoudhury
As I raise my head from the period marking the last sentence, last word of this book, I wonder.
I wonder!
What did I just finish reading? A lunatic poets’ longing and desperate cry for nature, being trapped within the fenced and tethered life of an asylum; nature, the source of his creations or was it a tiring tread into the discolored faded lives of the sane in the proximity of the senseless, the insane?

Rather, it’s a story of despair, of balancing and swaying on that thin line between sanity a
Okay, some people are going to love this novel...I think that they are the same people who loved 'The Gathering' by Anne Enright. If you like poetry and literature that is on the crazy disjointed end of the spectrum this might be your cup of tea, sadly it was not mine.

This is one of those books that you think you might be able to snarf down in half a day because it's pretty short, has a large font and lots of blank pages between the chapters. But when you get into it you see that it's the other
Vernon Goddard
Sep 24, 2010 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Nobody
Shelves: no-no-books
I was attracted by the idea of this book - essentially about John Clare one of my favourite poets, set in the asylum period which could prove interesting and written by Adam Foulds, a poet of considerable merit in his own right. So, a book to relish and enjoy.

Anyone who is conversant with Clare's work and life, knows the beauty of his poetry and the horridness of his rejections and the absurdity and difficulties of his time locked away. I thought this book would add to my knowledge and possibly
May 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 alt
John Anthony
Sep 17, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction

I didn't really like this – sorry Adam - but plenty of people did and you were nominated for the Booker. Even so, I'm still probably going to give it 3*s. Why? - the subject: – John Clare's time in an asylum in Essex run by an interesting charlatan and fraudster Matthew Allen, time spent with the poet and depressive Tennyson and his slighty more melancholic brother Septimus. A barrel of laughs as you see..Some wonderful descriptive writing throughout though probably squeezed an extra half sta
Ron Charles
Jun 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
While a quartet of literary gladiators battled for the Booker Prize last year, a young poet sat on the far edge of the shortlist looking on. Nobody thought Adam Foulds had a chance against Hilary Mantel, A.S. Byatt, Sarah Waters or J.M. Coetzee for England's most prestigious literary award. The bookies called "The Quickening Maze" a "rank outsider," and almost everyone bet correctly on Mantel's spectacular story about Thomas Cromwell. But while all the other books on the shortlist were published ...more
Mar 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A library book which I will buy and re-read with pleasure. Told in a series of vignettes, some only a paragraph or two long, others virtual short stories, spaced over a period of less than two years. We are introduced early to the main characters--the Allen family (father, mother, three daughters and son) who run an asylum for the insane in mid nineteenth century England. Their patients include the neglected nature poet John Clare, a visionary mystic named Margaret, and Septimus Tennyson, the br ...more
Oct 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
Adam Foulds possesses a very fine writing style, and that is the high point of this book. The plot and subplots are also engaging, and the sundry characters, based on real people, are winning. The story centers on John Clare, the earthy English “peasant poet,” and his stay at an insane asylum run by Matthew Allen, a doctor/industrialist. Allen’s daughter Hannah is also a character we spend time with, as is the poet Alfred Tennyson, who resides near the asylum to be near his brother Septimus, a m ...more
Mar 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is all about the writing style, so beautiful it draws you in straight away. My favourite passages include;

Our introduction to the mentally ill poet John Clare, the most poignantly presented character in the book;
He lifted the blanket, swung his softening white feet onto the clean wood floor, and stood up, and immediately wanted to lie back down again and not lie back down again and go and not go anywhere and not be there and be home.

The completeness of this metaphor...
Matthew Allen's p
Mar 23, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: borrowed
“He’d been sent out to pick firewood from the forest, sticks and timbers wrenched loose in the storm. Light met him as he stepped outside, the living day met him with its details, the scuffling blackbird that had its nest in their apple tree.

Walking towards the woods, the heath, beckoning away. Undulations of yellow gorse rasped softly in the breeze. It stretched off onto unknown solitudes.

He was a village boy and he knew certain things, He thought that the edge of the world was a day’s walk aw
Vanessa Wu
Oct 31, 2011 rated it liked it
Adam Foulds is a terrific writer. I read an article by him on how to write description and it was so brilliant that I immediately bought this novel.

I'm not going to share the article with you because if you read it you will instantly be able to write brilliant descriptions in your novels and that would give me too much competition while my own career is floundering.

Oh, all right, then. You've twisted my arm. You're right. Novel writing shouldn't be competitive. We should all help each other to b
Jul 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Booker Prize 2009 disappointed me with its runaway winner, but per my goodreads star allocations, The Quickening Maze ran circles around Wolf Hall...and in doing so took much less time.

Here is a fragile treatment of Matthew Allen's "insane asylum" during a rough time period when John Clare and a far more widely hailed Alfred Tennyson were both on site, the latter to stay near his troubled brother and not because he was admitted as insane or disturbed himself. It should also be noted that Cla
Jul 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Foulds constructs a historical fiction in which characters explore existential possibilities that open and close, trying to break out of the maze that confines them -'the maze of life with no way out, paths taken, places been'. Asylum inmates John Clare and Margaret move in and out of madness, struggling with inner torments and worldly constraints. Mathew Allen, Asylum owner, is drawn by a propensity to gamble into investing his own and other's money in new technology, leading to his economic an ...more
Sharon Bakar
Jul 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I met Adam Foulds recently at an arts festival in Kuala Lumpur and was lucky enough to do a workshop with him on creating character. I felt a bit ashamed of myself that I hadn't read this book already (especially as I usually read the Booker shortlist, especially as he agreed to read at the event I organised).

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel - the writing was gorgeous, particularly rich in details of the natural world, and had me wanting to reread passages. He has recreated a small slice of histo
Aug 17, 2010 rated it really liked it

Madness is always an interesting read.

This novel is focused on a portion of the life of the "rural" poet, John Clare that was spent in an asylum in Essex in 1830s. John Clare, from humble beginnings, had some success with his early work. However, when the novelty had worn off, this immensely gifted writer experienced isolation and hardship, and finally became insane, spending some of his life in Dr. Matthew Allen's High Beach private asylum.

Alfred Lord Tennyson's brother was institutionalize th

How do you even review a book like this. This 'poetic novel' totally defies any literary style I've ever read, and that's saying something. There is such poise and keenness in pace, driving us through the book's metamorphic soaring of the characters, versus themselves, versus a compelling setting, that the build-up and eventual pay-off left me totally satisfied. I'll be the first to admit it, even after finishing this book, I still don't know what it was supposed to be about, there's no visible ...more
Camilla Zahn
Jan 02, 2018 rated it it was ok
I've found confusing the amount of characters and the back and forth between them, and kinda hoped something bigger to happened. BUT, it is still a very good book, the descriptions of the forest and the seasons changing is remarkable. It has nice quotes and it made me think about the point of what is truly freedom, which I think is one of the main points of the book. ...more
Sep 10, 2009 rated it it was ok
I went into this book expecting an exploration of the mind of John Clare, and I didn't get it. Instead I got bits and pieces of a lot of other people, too, none of them explored in depth, either. This might have been a much better book if it was a series of linked and overlapping short stories. ...more
A truly surprising book. Every time I picked it up, I thought, why am I reading this? I have no interest in these topics. And then, three hours later, I would put it down. How did I read that book for three hours? I would say. I’m not interested in anything that’s happening in it, which is to say, very little is happening in it.

And then I would do the same again. I would find myself rushing up to bed at night to read more of it. Opening it with enormous, if slightly puzzled excitement on the tr
Jan 25, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
DNF approx 60% of the way through.

This book is trite and pretentious and I wish the author had left John Clare alone.
Courtney Johnston
In this very quiet, very beautiful book Adam Foulds takes a historical moment, replete with well and lesser-known historical personages, and breathes radiant life into it.

Foulds takes as his subject the private mental asylum run by Dr Matthew Allen at High Beach, Epping, where in the late 1830s the 'peasant poet' John Clare - by that time already passing out of fashion - is an inmate. Septimus Tennyson - Alfred Tennyson's brother - is a fellow inmate; Tennyson is not yet Lord Tennyson, the Poet
Nov 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Adam Foulds’s first book of fiction The Truth About These Strange Times garnered very favorable reviews, and won the Betty Trask Award 2007. This second one, The Quickening Maze is just as successful, even more so when it got shortlisted for the Booker.

It is a historical fiction, just like his other shortlisted Booker candidate Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. But, unlike it, it is shorter, about a quarter of the length. But, like that booker winner again, the writing is exquisite. Just look at these
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Adam Foulds (born 1974) is a British novelist and poet.

He was educated at Bancroft's School, read English at St Catherine's College, Oxford under Craig Raine, and graduated with an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia in 2001. Foulds published The Truth About These Strange Times, a novel, in 2007. This won a Betty Trask Award. The novel, which is set in the present day, is con

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