John Clare was a peasant poet from Northampton and is now recognised for his poetic genius. This novel is a moving and sensitive portrayal of his wife, a courageous woman, coping with the everyday struggles and heartache of a deranged husband under the full glare of village life. Set in the remote rural poverty of the 1840s, it's a powerful evocation of a time when mental health issues were synonymous with asylums and disgrace.
Nonetheless, the more I look away from the spire, the more I felt the desire to look again. Such is the power of a vertical object in a horizontal landscape; it draws the eye as the pole draws a compass. Though I would not look round, I could feel John's eyes drawn to it, and I thought bitterly of this village where Mary Joyce had lived and gone to school alongside John. I fancied his heart as a compass needle drawn always back to Mary, just as a traveller, befogged in the fen, always scans for the thicker shape of the spire or listens for a muffled peal of bells.