Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds

I struggled. I might say, I struggled manfully, just as the schizophrenic John Clare struggles to literally fight his way out of the asylum that is the nebulous embrace of the book. Or the struggle against the peculiar narrative coils of fate that the worthy doctor Matthew Allen finds himself up against.

It's a rich book full of well-chosen words and descriptions that eschew contrivance but don't slip into fancy. This I appreciated immensely - as I did the sequences in which John Clare enamours himself of the Gipsy group camped out in Epping Forest, episodes that read as utterly authentic.

No, my problem came in objectifying the narrative, visualising these people and their relationships and purpose. Foulds nestles the characters in the crook of his arm but never lets us stand back and really look at them. I felt that I was often watching a film shot in exquisite close-up. Andrew Motion suggests that Alan Hollinghurst is a close comparator but I found The Line Of Beauty a more straightforward read. For all that I liked the calligraphic attention given to his text, I often felt like this extended to the narrative and sometimes felt a little stupid for not being able to precipitate something as prosaic as a story from it. And to make the reader feel inhibited is a very dangerous side effect of any prose.

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