Title: The Quickening Maze
Author: Adam Foulds
Release Date: June 29, 2010
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 3 out of 5
The Quickening Maze follows the story of three different men: John Clare, a disturbed poet, Matthew Allen, his doctor, and Alfred Tennyson, the famed poet. Dr. Allen runs High Beach asylum, at which Clare is a patient, as is Tennyson’s brother, Septimus. As the story progresses, the fates of these three men are intertwined.
The Quickening Maze appeared on my radar when it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2009. I considered ordering it from the UK, but it was finally released by Penguin earlier this year and I got a chance to read it. I came away with mixed feelings, but am glad I took the plunge and read this complicated novel.
Foulds is a talented writer; his prose is lush and lyrical. It makes the book easy to read; the writing never becomes heavy handed or drags the story down. Foulds is very descriptive and it is easy to picture the details of this novel in your mind while reading. The characters are interesting, with the exception of Tennyson, who seems to have been thrown into the book. In particular, John Clare is a fascinating character. He really is just crazy, and it’s interesting to see where his madness takes him. It would have been nice to have more information about him, where his condition originated and such, as we are thrust into the middle of his mental condition with little explanation.
However, the book did have some flaws. Though The Quickening Maze is the story of three men, it’s told from the points of view of multiple characters, including Allen’s daughters. This makes the novel unnecessarily confusing, as the reader is scrambling to figure out what is going on at times. The novel also is a bit slow. The easy prose makes the reader want to read fast, yet it doesn’t seem like there is anything going on. Then, all of a sudden, everything comes together in one sickening moment. I’m not sure I liked this method of storytelling, and would have preferred events to be a bit more drawn out.
I found some parts of The Quickening Maze very interesting, but overall, the book didn’t work for me as well as I’d hoped. It was a difficult novel and didn’t really engage me while I was reading it. Die hard literary fiction fans may enjoy this one, but if you are a casual reader of the genre, I’d choose another book.