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Time's Fool

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Edmund Lea perpetually rides a ghost train—except every seven years on Christmas Eve, when he is allowed to revisit his home town.
Like Wagner's Flying Dutchman, Edmund is condemned to eternity alone until he determines how to lift the curse upon him. Time passes, from 1970 to 2019, but Edmund remains seventeen, unable to age and watching the world grow older. He tries in vain to break the spell by way of true love, repentance, hedonism; he tries to change the world and he tries...

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2000 Hard cover First edition. 1st Print New in Fine jacket New in fine dust jacket. New & Unread. Not a remainder. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 272 p. Audience: ... General/trade. Read more Show Less

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Overview

Edmund Lea perpetually rides a ghost train—except every seven years on Christmas Eve, when he is allowed to revisit his home town.
Like Wagner's Flying Dutchman, Edmund is condemned to eternity alone until he determines how to lift the curse upon him. Time passes, from 1970 to 2019, but Edmund remains seventeen, unable to age and watching the world grow older. He tries in vain to break the spell by way of true love, repentance, hedonism; he tries to change the world and he tries to die. Characters move in and out of Maxwell's story like Dante's figures in Hell, but Edmund's own Virgil is a careless and unhelpful poet, a portrait of the author as a student. The tale is told in formal terza rima, but its language and tone, its humor and sense of homesickness, are decidedly contemporary. It is a brilliant achievement.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
To say that Time's Fool is ambitious is to understate the case. Just as there were few poets in 1990 who made verse out of a candy egg manufacturer's guarantee, there are few poets today who write 396-page narrative poems in terza rima. It just isn't done. And yet here is Maxwell, pulling it off with his customary wit.
From the Publisher
"Glyn Maxwell has learned to do what all good poets do—he makes a world fresh again, a world you never knew existed."—William Logan, NEW CRITERION

“Maxwell has the dramatist’s skill to set his characters in motion and orchestrate them . . . and the poet’s knack for rhythmical pathos.”

Guardian

“Beautiful and moving and authentic poetry can be written today; and we know this not least because Glyn Maxwell is writing it."

New Republic

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"When the train stopped I started and woke up./ Was nowhere, as before, no change in that." As the Flying Dutchman suffered aboard his ghost ship, so Maxwell's Fool, Edmund Lea, suffers alone aboard his train, waiting for redemption from a sin he does not even at first recognize as such. Every seven years on Christmas Eve, beginning in 1977, Edmund is allowed to disembark from his train and spend one evening in Hartisle, his hometown. The inhabitants of that world believe he has run away of his own secret volition--a remarkable possibility, but not nearly as remarkable as the impossible and timeless world that he inhabits, stuck forever at age 17. Following in the wake of such recent verse-novels as Les Murray's phenomenal Fredy Neptune and W.S. Merwin's plodding Folding Cliffs, British ex-pat Maxwell, who got a lot of critical attention for his U.S. debut The Breakage last year, here checks in with his addition to this burgeoning genre. Apart from its Wagnerian netherworld, Time's Fool also bears a considerable Dantean influence: Edmund's journey counts among its ingredients an instructive guide (a grumpy poet, though, rather than a helpful philosopher); a lady love in the form of Clare Kendall, an old classmate; fellow travelers in the form of two long-suffering orphans, Pele and Wasgood; terror in the form of threatened eternal damnation and ferocious weather; and, ultimately, deliverance in female form--not to mention that the lines are in strict terza rima. Under the form's strictures, the narration can be labored and heavy, but Maxwell does find a synergy of form and content, with the best parts being descriptive rather than expository, as in one moment of Edmund's looking out the train window: "I saw beyond/ [my] shoulder the dark wind and the wild trees/ waving to the sky, and a grey wound// of sky was where the darkness was least,/ an opening or a closing where a hole/ was yellow almost with a feel of west..." The formal ambition of the project and Maxwell's relative success in carrying it off should wow more technically inclined readers and those looking for Fredy-like adolescent pleasures, minus the larger-scale import. More subtly ambitious, Maxwell's Boys selects from his first three U.K.-only releases and covers a wide and varied prosodic spectrum in its short time span. Most poems possess a slow, quiet fire, generally not announcing their emotion as much as offering it up in a waxed envelope. The pieces betray only the faintest well-chosen hints of what they are about, besides the quotidian--a man kills a wasp, a man falls in and out of love, a man escapes from an unnamed pursuer--but from those hints it is easy to extrapolate a world. Maddeningly little happens in these poems, and at its best, this quality bespeaks Blake's "world in a grain of sand"--but at its worst, it's hard to hear the poems above the noise of a smug, schoolboyish pride in the success of their formal mechanics. Nevertheless, the collection's steadfast belief in the transcendence of the quotidian is as impossible to discount when reflected in the melancholy of entreaties to "sit, forget/ the city-licking sound/ of water moving slowly through the Thames/ like years in thought." The co-release of these two books is clearly a push for Muldoon (whose book-length Madoc: A Mystery was a career-builder) or Murray-like recognition, but, unfortunately, Senator, Edmund is no Fredy, and the novel's audience will remain confined to the poetically inclined. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Maxwell's well-made poems reveal a stunning dexterity with the use of imagery and rhyme. The narrative poems in The Boys at Twilight, a selection from three previous volumes, range over diverse topics, including the environment, war, the struggle to maintain traditional values in a changing, multiethnic world, and "the hours/ of self-belief." Readers accustomed to confessionalism might be uncomfortable with a poet who keeps his personal life under wraps, but the brilliant use of language and delightful, rapid-fire embellishments of the ordinary are ample cause for celebration. Restrained yet vigorous, the voice of the poems (a "mad, beloved Time-Traveller") remains deeply committed to England, "a way back home," and "the future of a small, determined planet." The title poem, an elegiac lament over loss of youthful ideals, is worthy of A.E. Housman: "They sleep in the cold unswayable sight/ of all they envisage." With unexplained topical references to everyday English life, it's unclear how many of these striking English roses will find admirers on this side of the Atlantic. Although simple notes would have made this work more accessible, the publisher is to be commended for offering distinctive formal English poetry to American readers. Time's Fool, Maxwell's most recent work, is a massive novelistic study of redemption. Divided into nine sections, each containing four or five chapters, this 21st-century Pilgrim's Progress focuses on the struggles of Edmund Lea, "numb/ with knowledge," to express and make sense of picaresque travels back and forth from his home in Hartisle to "the great defeat/ of hopes, harlequinade at the Oak pub." The journey to future and past, crisscrossing 50 years (1970-2019), is set in a "mad world" (Hell, wilderness, "a sea/ of stone"), in which people are "destroyed,/ unmade, become forgotten, grow unheard of." Meetings with family members, old friends, and an array of semi-allegorical figures (Lucy Mizon, Wasgood, Woz) evoke dreamlike vignettes that illuminate Lea's search for order and a "single vision" of time. Despite a fractured presentation of the "diseased interior" of his life, Lea's character has a wholeness that sustains prolonged attention. His willingness to keep on caring about others (and himself) is a moral victory.--Frank Allen, Northampton Community Coll., Tannersville, PA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618073887
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 10/28/2000
  • Edition description: None
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 5.87 (w) x 9.28 (h) x 1.36 (d)

Meet the Author

Glyn Maxwell is the author of nine books of poetry, including, most recently, The Sugar Mile. He is also a dramatist whose—plays have been staged in New York, Edinburgh, and London. His latest play,'Liberty,'had its world premiere in the summer of 2008—at Shakespeare's Globe.'Among other honors, he has won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, the Somerset Maugham Award, and the E. M. Forster Prize. He was the poetry editor of the New Republic from 2001 to 2007.'He lives in London.

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Read an Excerpt

If I could have avoided what I had to tell I gladly would have, but my day had dawned, my voice had meaning: ‘Look. We are in Hell.’

So my reflection said. I saw beyond his shoulder the dark wind and the wild trees waving to the sky, and a grey wound

of sky was where the darkness was least, an opening or a closing where a hole was yellow almost with a feel of west,

while the train groaned beneath us on the rail and didn’t go. His smoke had crossed the floor and voyaged through my hands. I’d been in Hell

for fourteen years. I rose to meet his stare and held it, speaking: ‘This day, I believe, I shall be briefly freed, because this hour

I’ve recognized my language, in yourself.
I’ve counted to this day and now it’s come.
For I was damned to this on Christmas Eve

and don’t know why, how long, or in whose name.’ Glen turned his stare unchanging to the glass, then turned it down. He sat there for a time,

but suddenly relaxed, and with a voice from somewhere low and sad he asked my name...

Copyright 2000 © by Glyn Maxwell

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Table of Contents

Chapters (with those years chiefly considered)

1. The Chance in Hell  1 1984 and 1977

2. We Did It in Music  45 1984

3. My First Poem  89 The Train and 1970

4. The Once  133 1970 and the Train

5. Mallarea  177 1991

6. A Child’s Recorder  221 1998

7. Demundo  265 2005

8. Still to Want You Gone  309 2012

9. The Candle Palace  353 2019

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