Human Traces – Sebastian Faulks

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Human Traces – Sebastian Faulks

Post by Graham on Thu Nov 15, 2018 4:17 pm

After only a hundred pages or so of Human Traces I had started saying prayers to Saint Sebastian for the safety of the families of Thomas Midwinter and Jacques Rebière. They are two doctors from quite different backgrounds who partner to explore the new medical disciplines of the mind at the turn of the last century. They meet as teenagers and the book follows them through their apprenticeships and the setting up of their clinic in the Austrian Alps. Midwinter is the son of well-to-do English parents and enters medicine almost as an afterthought. Rebière is brought up by an uncaring father and a stepmother in rural France. His elder brother has slipped into psychosis and is banished first to the stable and then an asylum. Rebière vows to find a cure. This dry summary fails to tell you how affecting the story is. Despite desperate anguish the book shines with the love of friends and family. Jacques marries Midwinter’s sister Sonia while Thomas falls in love with Katherine, a patient mistakenly diagnosed as hysterical by Jacques.

This is another book to dwell in. It is a whopping 786 pages, not one of them dull. The good doctors often comment on the connection between madness and what makes us human and the blurb makes this out to be the gist of the novel. Despite the fascinating and thoroughly researched background detail, for me the genius of the book is in Faulks ability to make me feel.

Were my prayers answered? You will have to read the book to find out but Faulks tells the story faultlessly. The last 100 pages as Europe sleepwalks towards war and the peril reaches their families were continuously interrupted by my tears, and my heart was in my mouth for most of them.

Faulks is one of my favourite authors and I would say this is his best work.

Graham
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