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Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks

Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks

Sebastian Faulks has certainly written an interesting and wide ranging selection of novels over the years, from the excellent Birdsong to the intriguingly strange Engleby. Human Traces which was first published in 2005, again took a new tangent, exploring the early pioneering years of psychiatry, and the essence of what it is to be human.

Sebastian Faulks was born in Berkshire, England, in 1953. Faulks’ first novel, A Trick of the Light, was published in 1984. Since then, in a prolific writing career, he has gone on to publish a total of twelve novels.

Read on for a full review….

-- Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks a Review by Des Greene --
The formative years of psychiatric science may sound like dry and uninteresting subject matter for a novel I admit, but whilst this is certainly no adventure thriller, I did actually find it interesting, educational and entertaining.

The book’s journey starts in the 1870s and follows the lives of two main characters, Jaques Rebière and Thomas Midwinter. Both from very different family and cultural backgrounds, they first meet as young students of medicine, in the French resort of Deauville, where Thomas is visiting his sister. Despite the handicap of Thomas’s broken French, they form an immediate intellectual bond.

Both men share a dream to unravel the mysteries of the human mind and its illnesses, and from their first meeting they form a pact to be partners in this goal. Their early careers are shaped by different disciplines and mentors, but eventually they converge in a formal partnership and open a clinic and asylum together in Austria.

The main plotline, dealing with the frustrations, deadends and mistakes of early psychiatry is impressive enough when you consider the amount of research that Faulks must have undertaken, but the novel is also interwoven with many other sub-plots and interactions. Chief of these, are the relationships between Jaques and Thomas and their respective partners, though I will not spoil your enjoyment by revealing any more here. However, it is certainly Faulks’ great ability to formulate interesting characters and dialogue which provides the spoonful of medicine that helps the science go down.

There are certain passages where I found the bouncing of scientific ideas between the characters grated on me a little, and at times seemed a bit forced, but Faulks is certainly not alone as an author in using this trick to get information across to the reader.

There is no avoiding the fact that this is rather an intellectual novel, so don’t expect to tackle it as a spot of light reading. However, if you prefer your fiction to be of a more thought provoking and informative nature, then Human Traces may take some beating.

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