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.
I must rate this as the best new novel by a new writer that I have read for some time - and was thrilled to find this after reading very positive reviews that I am in complete agreement that this is a remarkable work, remarkable for the precision and vitality of its perceptions and the successful intricacy of its prose. It is a novel that I think will easily stand a second reading later in the year or early next, on the basis of the beauty and depth of its descriptive passages - which fit extraordinarily well between the beams of John Clare and Alfred Lord Tennyson around which the narrative is built. A notable high point for me what the descriptions and passages of religious-mania found in the more unstable and unsavoury characters lodged away from the main house. Will send me back to Tennyson and exploring towards John Clare - the rural idyll seems to be a theme to which I am increasingly drawn in my now middle-age with yearnings towards Vaughn Williams and the Chants d'Auvergne. Principally, however, it is a real delight to find a new young English novelist to rave about - what a talent, what a prospect, what a pleasure.
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Can't recommend it highly enough. Anyone interested in altered states of mind will be fascinated . The writing skills are remarkable.
Nothing actually happens in this book, unless I missed something really exciting when the boredom lulled me into a semi-comatose state. But I very much doubt it! To make things worse, the accents are really annoying - Janet from Dr Finlay's Casebook meets Alfed Lord Tennyson with a broad Yorshire accent! How awful is that!
0 of 3 people found this review helpful