There have been some books that I have been really daunted by on the Man Booker Longlist and some that I have been really looking forward to. The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds was one of the latter. It ticked quite a few boxes for me straight away, it was based on true events, it was set in a mental institution and on a superficial level it has a wonderful cover. It sounded like it was going to be a creepy account of a man’s journey into madness.
Adam Foulds novel ‘The Quickening Maze’ is a novel based on factual events that happened in Epping Forest in the 1840’s. The book is set in High Beach Private Asylum where the poet John Clare is incarcerated. Well not incarcerated as he is allowed to wander the woods where he writes his poetry and dreams of his wives, yes wives. You see John Clare thinks that he is married to more than one woman though the depths of the why behind it is never really properly explained. It’s not just John Clare that we meet in the novel though of course.
Through the novel we get to meet all of the other people either working at the asylum such as Dr Matthew Allen who owns the asylum and his family or those who are staying there, some of whom which we get to know rather too well in some circumstances like the man who is scared that his daily ablutions add evil into the world and so will not purge himself. I did find the patients and their varying different issues and how they were treated really fascinating and wanted to read a lot more about them.
One of the latest arrivals to the asylum is the poet Alfred Tennyson who is there to support his brother who becomes a patient. Dr Allen’s daughter Hannah takes it upon herself to try and become the apple of his eye and so we are thrown in a strange kind of love story of sorts. I had no idea that these two world famous poets paths had crossed and so it was all again very interesting. Sadly though despite the premise being so me and the ideas and characters of the novel being so interesting it sadly just didn’t really quite work for me.
The prose is beautiful, you can tell the author is a poet himself, and the journey of John Clare into the depths of madness is written incredibly well so in parts you feel you are going through it with him. The disjointed relationship between Hannah and Alfred and also her sisters and family just didn’t quite mesh with me. This could be due to the fact that I read it on a plane which is not the best reading spot for me; I don’t think that is quite the case though. I found that in what is actually a very short 258 page novel there seemed to be a few too many characters and ideas, if the story had just concentrated on the poets and the asylum it might have done slightly more for me.
I feel bad not praising it as it’s very good, it just wasn’t the ‘me’ book that I had the high hopes it would be. Has that ever happened to any of you? A book you are looking forward to because it has all those magic ingredients that are just up your reading street and then it leads you into a dodgy dead end? What novels have you read based on factual events have really worked for you, which ones haven’t?