Adam Foulds' superb depiction of the 19th-century poet John Clare, suffering bouts of madness and being treated with the revolutionary methods of Dr Matthew Allen at High Beach Asylum, is a work of poetry itself.
From the moment we meet Clare, haunted and confused, we are plunged into the dark landscape of his mind that the real, outside world does little to mitigate. The presence of the future Poet Laureate Alfred Tennyson, who has come to the aid of his mad brother, attracts the marital hopes of the lonely, bookish Hannah, but it is her beautiful best friend, Annabella, who catches his eye.
Through history, the things that drive us mad may always have been ordinary and everyday, and words may be cast about without a care as they always have been. But Foulds' exact and effective prose shows how deep and damaging the most mundane act, the most thoughtless word, will always be, making this novel about a specific case, at a specific point in medical history, quite timeless.