Adam Roberts is Professor of Nineteenth-Century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London, as well as a science fiction novelist. He is the editor of Tennyson: the Major Works, which was recently published in the Oxford World’s Classics series. In the original post below, he reviews the Booker shortlisted novel The Quickening Maze, by Adam Foulds, which features Tennyson as a main character.
If you’d like to read more by Adam Roberts, he also writes for literary blog, The Valve.
I picked up Adam Foulds’ excellent new novel The Quickening Maze (it has, as I’m sure you know, been shortlisted for this year’s Booker Prize) with more than an ordinary reader’s interest. You see, this scrupulously researched historical novel takes Alfred Tennyson as one of the main characters; and I, as the editor of Tennyson: the Major Works, was curious as to how Foulds treats him.
I was not disappointed. The Quickening Maze is, throughout, a beautifully written fiction: set in 1840 and centred on the lunatic asylum run by Dr Matthew Allen on the outskirts of Epping Forest, the novel evokes its world with a poet’s eye and skill at phrasing—indeed the book is as much about poetry, or poetic perception, as it is about a series of events. The point-of-view shifts deftly between all the main characters, including a number of the inmates at the asylum; although the peasant poet, John Clare, is the main focus. A patient in Allen’s asylum, his sanity is precarious at the beginning of the tale and becomes less stable as it goes on. Fould’s vivid, precise way with poetic image, and his exquisite control of language, brilliantly evoke the world through Clare’s hyper-sensitive eyes.