MLA Platinum Award Press Release

BookBrowse Reviews Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Human Traces

A Novel

by Sebastian Faulks

Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks X
Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2006, 576 pages
    Aug 2006, 618 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team
Buy This Book

About this Book



An extraordinary novel that brings to vivid life the epic quest to map the human mind. Historical Fiction

From the book jacket: What is it to be human? This question, as in Birdsong, is at the heart of Human Traces. Set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this is an extraordinary novel that brings to vivid life, through the story of the volatile friendship and dedicated careers of two determined men, the epic quest to map the human mind.

Comment: 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.  It's an incredibly ambitious, intelligent work, sufficiently well researched that I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes required reading for medical students.  In fact, the grasp that Faulks has for his material is sometimes quite 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!

It's impossible to provide an adequate synopsis of this extraordinary book in a few lines but in short, Thomas Midwinter, an Englishman, and his close friend Jacques Rebière, meet by chance in 1880 and immediately recognize a kindred spirit in the other - both are training to become doctors at a time when mental illness is beginning to be seen not as an affliction but as a disease that can be cured, and both are determined to be at the forefront of medical discovery.  Thomas's path takes him to a hellish English asylum, while Jacques becomes enamored of the theories put forward by the French neurologist Jean Charcot (mirroring Freud, who was a great admirer of Charcot).  Eventually they open a clinic together in an old schloss (chateau/castle) on the Austro/Slovenian border with the help of Thomas's sister, Sonia, with the single-minded purpose of curing mental illness, but conflict develops when their theories start to diverge.  While the central characters obsessively work to uncover the secrets of the human brain, they themselves, run the gamut of  human emotions, stepping into the edge of madness.  

Did you know?  Key to Human Traces is the theme of hearing voices, now considered a classic sign of schizophrenia, but in Human Traces it is posited as having a more central place in human evolution.  In an interview last year, Faulks said, "I think there's no doubt that the hearing of voices is much more common than we generally acknowledge, and I don't think it's necessarily a sign of being mad,"  He tells of an incident he experienced shortly after his second child was born, when he heard his wife's voice screaming for him but when he went upstairs there was nobody there.  In his acknowledgements, he references The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1977), "a cult classic", in which the author, Julian Jaynes, suggests that hearing voices was once commonplace and that the loss of the ability to hear coincided with the generation of modern human consciousness.

This review is from the Human Traces. It first ran in the October 5, 2006 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for a year or $12 for 3 months
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Join Now!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Mercies
    The Mercies
    by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
    It's 1617 and a violent storm has claimed the lives of 40 fishermen off the coast of Vardø, a ...
  • Book Jacket
    Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree
    by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani
    Ya Ta, the main character in Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani's novel, Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree, ...
  • Book Jacket: Run Me to Earth
    Run Me to Earth
    by Paul Yoon
    Suspenseful and elegant storytelling in Run Me to Earth kept me turning pages even through traumatic...
  • Book Jacket: Beheld
    by TaraShea Nesbit
    Much like her debut novel The Wives of Los Alamos, TaraShea Nesbit's Beheld imagines a familiar ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    And They Called It Camelot
    by Stephanie Marie Thornton

    An unforgettable portrait of American legend Jackie O.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Yellow Bird Sings
    by Jennifer Rosner

    A breathtaking debut inspired by the true stories of Jewish children hidden during WWII.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Things They Carried
by Tim O'Brien

The classic, ground-breaking meditation on war and the redemptive power of storytelling.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win The Firsts

The Inside Story of the Women Reshaping Congress

[I]ntimately told ...detailed and thought-provoking" - New York Times



Solve this clue:

T Die I C

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.