Human Traces

Human Traces

by Sebastian Faulks

As young boys both Jacques Rebière and Thomas Midwinter become fascinated with trying to understand the human mind. As psychiatrists, their quest takes them from the squalor of the Victorian lunatic asylum to the crowded lecture halls of the renowned Professor Charcot in Paris; from the heights of the Sierra Madre in California to the plains of unexplored Africa.As the concerns of the old century fade and the First World War divides Europe, the two men's volatile relationship develops and changes, but is always tempered by one exceptional woman; Thomas's sister Sonia.Moving and challenging in equal measure, Human Traces explores the question of what kind of beings men and women really are.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Fiction
  • Rating: 3.63
  • Pages: 793
  • Publish Date: July 6th 2006 by Vintage
  • Isbn10: 0099458268
  • Isbn13: 9780099458265

What People Think about "Human Traces"

As it stands, the beginning (full of hope) and the end (full of despair) were worth the read. That's fine when it works but in this book, Faulks appears to take the easy way out and at times his "telling" ran into 22 consecutive pages with the occasional token "Thomas stood up" or "Thomas said" to break the monotony. The end hook of chapter VII was the dramatic announcement "My name, too, you see, is Midwinter".

The novel begins in the 1876, with the introduction of the two protagonists - Jacques Rebiere and Thomas Midwinter. In England, Thomas Midwinter dreams to study Shakespeare andbelieves that literature allows for understanding of humanity. When the lives of Jacques and Thomas intersect, both discover that the other shares the same fascination: both pledge to pursue further understanding of the human condition and all that comes with it, and eventually set up their own clinic. With time, each begins to form a different hypothesis: Jacques believes that traumatic experiences at a young age can are the cause of madness and schizophrenia, while Thomas remains a strict naturalist and believes that mental and physical problems are genetic. The main sin it commits against the art of storytelling is the sheer amount of exposition: after the brilliant opening it lapses into a display of its impressive background research, with the characters becoming little more than speakers for the author who illustrate his points; several chapters are devoted to long and academic discussion over the nature of mental illness, and in one chapter a whole lecture is transcribed from beginning to end. It's almost cathartic in effect, purifying the artificual plot with truly human emotions; I closed the book forgiving it its flawed and weak parts, being glad that I was able to experience the strong and beautiful.

Mr Faulks writes beautifully throughout all three of these books. His father busy working and his sick, mistreated, older brother for whom Jacques channels his ambitions. This novel is not just about medicine and mental health, it is about life, dreams, hope, love, lust, ambition, death, disappointment, sickness and sorrow. Mr Faulks writing flows and is very descriptive, it is easy to 'see' and 'feel' the story. This story consists of 609 pages, it is quite a tome and took me two weeks to read.

The story covers many aspects of their journey, at times hyper focused on the nature of their work, at other times only briefly explaining their work to focus the microscope on their family.

Years from now we will look back at the accepted best practice for schizophrenia and shake our heads asking can you believe that was considered helpful.

The amount of research Sebastian Faulks clearly does into his chosen subject matter leaves many, if not most, authors in the dust. It's as though Faulks didn't want to leave the tiniest bit of research out. But I'd forgotten that if there's one thing Faulks does particularly well, it is his endings.

Sebastian Faulks was awarded the CBE in 2002.