John Clare was a successful rustic poet in his own time. Set in England in the 1830's, The Quickening Maze tells the story of his time in a mental institution. Ironically, Alfred Tennyson was there at the same time, staying with his brother, Septimus, who was institutionalized as a melancholic. The doctor who owned the asylum, Matthew Allen, had his own problems. He had spent time in debtor's prison and became obsessed with his invention of a wooden machine to carve decorative wooden pieces. As he becomes more obsessed, and gets more investors to give him large sums of money (including Tennyson), Dr. Allen leaves the asylum in the care of a brutal man who abuses and rapes the inmates. John Clare manages to blackmail him into leaving the asylum.
I was not familiar with John Clare when I picked up this book, but I fell in love with some of the characters in the first chapter. It is obvious to me why The Quickening Maze was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize. I look forward to more exquisite prose from Adam Foulds. Foulds has also written a novel called, The Truth About These Strange Times and a book-length narrative poem called The Broken Word.