The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds is an interesting book. It tells the story of poet John Clare's incarceration in an asylum in Epping Forest. The asylum is run by Dr. Matthew Allen and populated with quite an assortment of characters including Allen's family, the poet Alfred Tennyson, the brutish staff, and Clare's fellow inmates. Clare has a hard time living in the asylum because he is a man of nature - being inside is crushing his spirit. But he is delusional, calling himself other names and yearning for his childhood sweetheart (who he believes is his second wife) and so he must remain.
Alongside Clare's narrative are two others: Dr. Allen begins his enterprise in creating a woodcarving machine, and one of his daughters, Hannah, searches for love; Hannah tries to catch the eyes of unavailable men including Tennyson and one of the inmates who is not insane (he's merely being kept at the asylum because he has inappropriate " sentimental attachments"). Both of these narratives were interesting for different reasons: while brilliant, Dr. Allen's scheme faces setback after setback; and Hannah manages to grow up, so to speak, while chasing her unattainable men.
My one issue with The Quickening Maze is that it gives you the point of view of an awful lot of characters (many more than the few I've mentioned here), which can be quite confusing at times. I'm thinking that's mainly a fault with the subject matter: this book is full of many interesting and historically accurate characters, so Foulds probably wanted to ensure the reader got a feel for them all. Despite this issue, The Quickening Maze is a beautiful book, in particular thanks to Foulds' background as a poet; his prose contains many lovely turns of phrases.