Summary and book reviews of Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks

Human Traces

A Novel

by Sebastian Faulks

Human Traces
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2006, 576 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2006, 618 pages

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Book Summary

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.

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 d’Or 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.

I

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, ...

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Reviews

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BookBrowse

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).

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Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

Faulks paints a tableux of 19th-century life that is remarkably revealing. Epic in scope, this is an imaginative look at the rise of medicine for the mind.

Library Journal

This is an enjoyable and edifying literary achievement, though probably not good beach reading.

Publishers Weekly

Faulks marries extensive research with a satisfying narrative arc to create a novel that is compelling as both history and literature.

Booklist - Brad Hooper

Continually fascinating despite its density, this intellectual epic explores the uneasy relationship between madness and humanity.

Reader Reviews

Valerie

Slow and well written
Well written but long and slow. While it was an okay read, I was looking forward to finishing it to read something else. It is an interesting portrayal of mental health at the turn 20th century.

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Beyond the Book

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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