A breezy book, easy to read and a unique and enjoyable style. I really hope he wins the Booker. I finished this book last tuesday and have not had a chance to write at all since then.
Well it is about this poet – John Clare, who is in a mental institution. Tennyson arrives in the neighbourhood with his brother and admits him in the same institution. (Yes! I mean the poet Alfred Tennyson. The author has beautifully blended the fact and fiction.) The paths of the two contemporary poets never cross really. But their lives are interwoven with the rest of the characters.
Perceptions are created and dispelled by the author. The hue of John Clare’s character has several variations throughout the book. One begins to empathize with him towards the end. Whereas Tennyson’s life is as amorphous and as dreamy as Tennyson himself. The Doctor’s (Dr. Mathew Allen who runs the institution) daughter falls in love with Tennyson and expresses herself to him. I love the way he has subtly dealt with the subject. Tennyson’s non-reaction explains it all. He simply does not understand that girl in the state of mind he is in.
In fact, the entire story is filled with subtleties. Margaret, an inmate, who thinks she is actually Mary, John Clare who thinks that Mary (his childhood sweetheart) is the one he is married to and not his own wife and the event that brings them together. Yet, John Clare yearns for his freedom to live with his real wife and kids. Also the part where Tennyson is preparing for his nobel prize is beautifully written. It is mind blowing the simplicity with which the author engages you in the scene and fires your imagination.
The author has intricately drawn a contrast between the good and the bad and the ugly (forgive my cliche!). The man i.e. John Clare is incoherent, thinks he is Lord Byron, yet can see that the Caretaker of the inmates is abusing his power and is taking undue advantage of Mary. He gets out of the institution and also saves the girl whom he earlier thought was Mary (the childhood sweetheart) with the knowledge that she is not a part of his fantasies and desires. The supplosedly sane individuals like the caretaker, have crooked minds filled with evil as is demonstrated by the one incident which the author describes.
The title is apt. The Quickening Maze – is that which John Clare believes is engulfing him pushing him to ingeniously procure his freedom – the very maze that Tennyson is unable to see.