What is it to be human? This question, as in Birdsong, is at the heart of Human Traces.
The story begins in Brittany where a young, poor boy somehow passes his medical exams and goes to Paris, where he attends the lectures of Charcot, the Parisian neurologist who set the world on its head in the 1870s. With a friend, he sets up a clinic in the mysterious mountain district of Carinthia in south-east Austria.
If The Girl at the Lion dOr was a simple three-movement symphony, Birdsong an opera, Charlotte Gray a complex four-movement symphony and On Green Dolphin Street a concerto, then Human Traces is a Wagnerian grand opera.
An evening mist, salted by the western sea, was gathering on the low hills
reed-spattered rises running up from the rocks then back into the gorse- and
bracken-covered country and on to the roads that joined the villages, where
lamps and candles flickered behind the shutters of the grey stone houses. It was
poor country so poor, remarked the Curé, who had recently arrived from Angers,
that the stones of the shore called out for God's mercy. With the mist came
sputtering rain, made invisible by the extinguished light, as it exploded like
flung gravel at the windows, while stronger gusts made the shivering pine trees
shed their needles on the dark, sanded earth.
Jacques Rebière listened to the sounds from outside as he looked through the window of his bedroom; for a moment, a dim moon allowed him to see clouds foaming in the darkness. The weather reminded him, often, that it was not just he, at sixteen years old, who was young, ...
Faulks's latest novel, a 550 page epic that took him four years to write, is not so much a novel about the dawn of modern psychiatry, as a history of psychiatry wrapped around a novel. The grasp that Faulks has for his material is sometimes a little overwhelming, to the point that I must admit to skipping the occasional page here and there when one or another of his characters expounded on the latest theory of the day in particular depth!
(Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Full Review (904 words).
Sebastian Faulks was born on 20 April 1953 and was educated in England at
Wellington College and Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He was the first literary
editor of The Independent (a leading British newspaper launched in 1986) and became deputy editor of the Independent on Sunday
before leaving in 1991 to concentrate on writing; he continues to contribute
articles and reviews to a number of newspapers and magazines.
He is well-known for his three novels set in wartime France: The Girl at the Lion d'Or (1989), set between the First and Second World Wars, Birdsong (1993), the story of a young Englishman and his harrowing experiences fighting in northern France during the First World War; and Charlotte Gray (1998), the ...
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