The Quickening Maze

by Adam Foulds

eBooks of the Month Historical Fiction Modern and Classic Literary Fiction

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Shortlisted for the inaugural Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction 2010.


Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2009.


A fictionalised account of an asylum on the edge of Epping Forest where the poet John Clare spent some time. Tennyson visits the asylum adding that extra sense of reality but it is the story of the doctor Matthew Allen and his humane care for the patients in a time where such care was rare that makes this novel a pleasure to read.

The Quickening Maze Synopsis

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 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 Matthew 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. This intensely lyrical novel describes his vertiginous fall, through hallucinatory episodes of insanity and dissolving identity, towards his final madness.

Historically accurate, but brilliantly imagined, the closed world of High Beach and its various inmates – the doctor, his lonely daughter in love with Tennyson, the brutish staff and John Clare himself – are brought vividly to life. Outside the walls is Nature, and Clare’s paradise: the birds and animals, the gypsies living in the forest; his dream of home, of redemption, of escape. Rapturous yet precise, exquisitely written, rich in character and detail, this is a remarkable and deeply affecting book: a visionary novel which contains a world.

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All versions of this book

ISBN: 9780224087469
Publication date: 07/05/2009
Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd an imprint of Vintage
Format: Hardback

Book Information

ISBN: 9780224087469
Publication date: 7th May 2009
Author: Adam Foulds
Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd an imprint of Vintage
Format: Hardback
Genres: eBook Favourites, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Reading Groups,

About Adam Foulds

Adam Foulds was born in 1974 and lives in south London. He is a graduate of the Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia and his poetry has appeared in a number of literary magazines. His first novel, The Truth About These Strange Times, was published in 2007.

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