The Quickening Maze
England, around 1840, and John Clare, the middle-aged poet of rural England, is incarcerated with his delusions and alter egos in High Beach mental asylum in Epping Forest, near London. The young Alfred Tennyson, still grieving over the death of his beloved friend, Arthur Hallam, lives nearby, to be close to his brother Septimus who is also at High Beach. The asylum is run by Matthew Allen, a progressive man of science and industry, with his family living in unusually close proximity to the mentally disturbed inmates.
From this foundation in actual events, Adam Foulds weaves a delicate tale that has at its centre the inner lives, thoughts, desires and self-deceptions of both the seemingly sane and those incarcerated in the asylum. Foulds, who last year published the highly regarded verse-novel The Broken Word (reviewed in HNR 45) writes as a poet, with shaped prose and accurate and original description and impressions driving the narrative and plot. At times, the language and depiction of events is visceral and disturbing as Foulds depicts the churn of human activity. As Matthew Allen reflects upon the failure of a business venture, he captures the essence of the novel: “He achieved a deeply peaceful dejection….thinking of man’s short squirming frenzy before entering the silence.” The kind of maze without a way out that entraps us all, eventually.