Read The Quickening Maze Online

Authors: Adam Foulds

Tags: #Tennyson; Alfred Tennyson, #Mental Health, #Mentally Ill, #England, #Historical Fiction, #London (England), #London (England) - Social Conditions - 19th Century, #Clare; John - Mental Health, #Psychiatric hospitals, #Psychiatric Hospitals - England - London - History - 19th Century, #General, #Mentally Ill - Commitment and Detention - England - London - History - 19th Century, #london, #Historical, #Commitment and Detention, #Poets; English - 19th Century - Mental Health, #Fiction, #Poets; English, #19th Century, #History

The Quickening Maze

BOOK: The Quickening Maze
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Table of Contents
 
 
Praise for
The Quickening Maze
Shortlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize
“Exceptional . . . like a lucid dream: earthy and true, but shifting, metamorphic—the word-perfect fruit of a poet’s sharp eye and novelist’s limber reach.”

The Times
(London)
 
“[Foulds is] one of the most interesting and talented writers of his generation.”

The Times Literary Supplement
(London)
 
“Impressive . . . simultaneously poised and flowing in its urgency.”

The Guardian
(London)
 
“The world [Foulds] evokes . . . is conjured up with remarkable intensity and economy of means. It is impossible to guess where Foulds will travel next in his fiction, but it is safe to assume that the journey with him will be well worth taking.”

The Sunday Times
(London)
 
“This poetic novel soars. . . . All is raised in pitch and definition by the prurient excitement of Foulds’ very twenty-first-century lust for life. . . . deeply believable . . . alluring.”

The Independent
(London)
 

The Quickening Maze
is a remarkable and passionate book. The worlds it creates, the forest and the asylum, and the characters that inhabit them are drawn with a wonderfully strange poetic intensity. It is a wholly original vision, impossible to forget.”
—Patrick McGrath, author of
Spider
and
Trauma
 
“This is a novel that sees its varied cast of compelling characters, all travelling their separate but interlocking journeys, as it sees the natural world—with a tender and scrupulous eye. What I love most about
The Quickening Maze
is its quietness, the silence that makes you lean in until you hear its lovely song.”
—Nadeem Aslam, author of
Maps for Lost Lovers
PENGUIN BOOKS
THE QUICKENING MAZE
Adam Foulds was born in 1974, took a Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia and now lives in South London. His first novel,
The Truth About These Strange Times
, was published in 2007 and he was named Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year in 2008. His book-length narrative poem,
The Broken Word
, was shortlisted for a number of awards, including the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, and won the 2008 Costa Poetry Award.
PENGUIN BOOKS
 
 
Published by the Penguin Group Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd) Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd) Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi - 110 017, India Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd) Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
 
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
 
First published in Great Britain by Jonathan Cape,
an imprint of The Random House Group Limited 2009
Published in Penguin Books 2010
 
 
Copyright © Adam Foulds, 2009
All rights reserved
 
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING IN PUBLICATION DATA
Foulds, Adam, 1974-
The quickening maze / Adam Foulds.
p. cm.
eISBN : 978-1-101-44220-3
1. Clare, John, 1793-1864—Mental health—Fiction. 2. Tennyson, Alfred Tennyson, Baron, 1809-1892—Fiction. 3. Poets, English—19th century—Mental health—Fiction. 4. Psychiatric hospitals—England—London—History—19th century—Fiction. 5. Mentally ill—Commitment and detention—England—London—History—19th century—Fiction. 6. London (England)—Social conditions—19th century—Fiction. I. Title. PR6106.O95Q’.92—dc22 2009040218
 
 
 
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to my parents
Prologue:
The World’s End
He’d been sent out to pick firewood from the forest, sticks and timbers wrenched loose in the storm. Light met him as he stepped outside, the living day met him with its details, the scuffling blackbird that had its nest in their apple tree.
Walking towards the wood, the heath, beckoning away. Undulations of yellow gorse rasped softly in the breeze. It stretched off into unknown solitudes.
He was a village boy and he knew certain things. He thought that the edge of the world was a day’s walk away, there where the cloud-breeding sky touched the earth at the horizon. He thought that when he got there he would find a deep pit and he would be able to look down into it and see the world’s secrets. Same as he knew he could see heaven in water, a boy on his knees staring into the heavy, flexing surface of the gravel-pit ponds or at a shallow stream flashing over stones.
He set off, down into the wide yellow fragrance. The wood he could collect on his return.
Soon he was further from the village than he had ever been, furthest from the tough, familiar nest of his cottage. He walked quite out of his knowledge, into a world where the birds and flowers did not know him, where his shadow had never been.
It confused him. He started to think that the sun was shining in a new quarter of the sky. He felt no fear yet: the sun lit wonders in a new zone that held him in steady rapt amazement. He did wonder, though, why the old world had not come to an end, why the horizon was no closer.
He walked and walked and before he’d thought the morning passed, the light was thickening. Moths flittered under the bushes. Frogs fidgeted along the rabbit tracks and mice twittered their little splintery cries. Overhead trembled the first damp stars.
It was the hour of waking spirits. Now he was afraid.
He hurried around with a panicking heart and found behind him a splay of paths. By chance he got on the right one. As the darkness grew, gathering first in the bushes and trees, then soaking out from them, he found himself approaching his own village. At least it looked like his own village, but somehow the distance he’d travelled made him uncertain. It looked the same. It definitely was the same, but somehow it didn’t seem right, in place. Even the church, rising over the wood, the church he’d seen every day as soon as he could see at all, looked counterfeit. Frightened, racing, like a lost bird he flung his light body towards what he hoped was home.
His name. He heard his name being called. John! John! Jo-ohn! Village voices. He could put names to them all. He ran now, not answering, to his own cottage, feeling a tumult of relief as he approached. When he stepped through the open doorway his mother yelped at the sight and flew towards him. Her strong arms encircled him, her bosom crushed against his face.
‘We thought you was dead. In the wood. They’re out looking for you.We thought you was struck down by a falling . . . Oh, but you’re home.’
Autumn
Abigail started neatly at a walk as her mother had just smartened her, plucking and smoothing her dress into place. She had run a fingertip down Abigail’s nose as she bent down with a crackle of her own dress and repeated the message to carry. But outside the door and with the sun warm through the trees and the path firm under her tightly laced boots, Abigail couldn’t help it: after a few paces she broke into a run.
She ran across the garden and over into the grounds of Fairmead House, then along its side and past the pond where Simon the idiot was throwing stones; even she knew he’d been told not to do that. He looked round sharply at the sound of her footsteps just after he’d launched one. It couldn’t be stopped: their eyes met at the moment it plopped in and slow circles widened across the green water. It was only the child, though. He smiled naughtily at her, knowing she wouldn’t tell. She ran round the corner past Mr Stockdale the attendant whom she did not like. He was large and strict and when he tried to play with her it was not meant, not meant properly, and his hands were heavy. But there was Margaret sitting on a stool, sewing. She liked Margaret, her thin, sharpchinned face like a wooden toy, and wide, clear, kind eyes. She was a peaceful lady, mostly, and now Abigail walked over and leaned against her knees to be for a moment inside that calm. Margaret didn’t say anything, stroked once the back of Abigail’s head as the child looked down at her sampler. There were three colours of thread: green for hills, brown for the cross and black for lines coming out of the cross. Abigail put out a finger and felt the bumpy black stitches. ‘God’s love,’ Margaret whispered. ‘Beams.’ Briefly she wound the thread she was working with a couple of times around Abigail’s finger. ‘Wrap you up in it.’
Abigail smiled. ‘Good day,’ she said and set off running again, past some others strolling there, and then when she saw him, with greater speed towards her father.
Matthew Allen swung the axe down onto the upturned log. The blade sunk down into it, but it didn’t split, so he raised the axe and log together and brought them down hard. The log flew apart into two even pieces that rocked on the grass. ‘Nothing to it,’ he remarked. He stooped and added the new pieces with their clean white pith to the barrow and stood another log on the stump.
Seeing Abigail bouncing towards him, he handed the lunatic the axe and grappled her up into his arms. ‘Just go on like that until you’ve filled the barrow, please.’
Abigail could feel the warmth of his body through its compress of clothes. She wriggled at the sensation of his humid whiskers against her as he kissed her cheek.
‘Mother says to come now because they’ll be here pleasantly.’
Allen smiled.‘Did she say “pleasantly” or “presently”?’
Abigail frowned. ‘Presently,’ she said.
‘Then we’d better set off.’
Abigail leaned her head into his neck, into the smell of him in his cravat, and felt her feet swinging in the air with each of his steps, like riding a pony.
Patients greeted her father with a nod as he passed or with some rearrangement of their posture. Simon the idiot, who definitely was not throwing stones into the pond, waved with his whole arm.
Outside the house Hannah stood waiting, holding her sharp elbows and thoughtfully drawing a line on the path in front of her with the toe of her boot. She looked up at them as they arrived and spoke as if to justify herself.
‘I thought I ought to wait to greet them, given that there was no one else.’
Allen laughed. ‘I’m sure even a poet is capable of pulling a door bell.’ He watched his daughter ignore the comment, staring at the ground. Abigail was twisting in his arms now the ride was over, and he set her down. She ran off a few yards to pick up an interesting stick.The front door opened and Mrs Allen walked out to join them. ‘Fine weather,’ she commented.
‘Are we not too many now?’ Hannah asked. ‘The brother may be a little overwhelmed.’
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