Monday, 13 June 2011

Human Traces - Sebastian Faulks

Synopsis - Sixteen-year-old Jacques Rebière is living a humble life in rural France, studying butterflies and frogs by candlelight in his bedroom. Across the Channel, in England, the playful Thomas Midwinter, also sixteen, is enjoying a life of ease-and is resigned to follow his father's wishes and pursue a career in medicine.
A fateful seaside meeting four years later sets the two young men on a profound course of friendship and discovery; they will become pioneers in the burgeoning field of psychiatry. But when a female patient at the doctors' Austrian sanatorium becomes dangerously ill, the two men's conflicting diagnosis threatens to divide them--and to undermine all their professional achievements. From the bestselling author of Birdsong comes this masterful novel that ventures to answer challenging questions of consciousness and science, and what it means to be human. (Taken from Goodreads)

Review - In my opinion, Sebastian Faulks is right up there with the best of our writers.  He studied English at Cambridge.  He worked as a features writer for The Telegraph papers before becoming Deputy Editor of The Independant on Sunday.  This is the third novel of his I have read.  Birdsong was excellent and Charlotte Gray very good, but for me Human Traces is superior.

Is the writing any better in this novel?  Mr Faulks writes beautifully throughout all three of these books.

Is it the subject matter?  There may possibly a link, you may recall I found Abraham Verghese's Cutting for Stone excellent which also has a strong medical theme.  Medicine interests me but not to go into the profession, I'm far too squeamish but I enjoy the science.  I like psychology and again have an interest in mental health, having read Edward de Bono, R D Laing and others in my teens and later Oliver Sachs - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat for book group.  It is interesting how the mind works and what can go wrong, the delicate line we tread. 

Is it the storyline?  Most definitely!  Right from the start where we are in France with the sixteen year old Jacques whose Mother died in childbirth, brought up mainly by his aunt and grandmother.  His father busy working and his sick, mistreated, older brother for whom Jacques channels his ambitions.  In England the young Thomas, at the same age, not taken particularly seriously by his father as the youngest of three children.  It is his dear sister Sonia who sees how bright Thomas is and takes an interest in him, guiding him to follow his instincts and interests.  When these two young men meet they form a strong bond which maintains their lasting friendship through life.  This novel is not just about medicine and mental health, it is about life, dreams, hope, love, lust, ambition, death, disappointment, sickness and sorrow. 

Mr Faulks writing flows and is very descriptive, it is easy to 'see' and 'feel' the story.  His own personal knowledge of Cambridge, England and France show and his research is thorough.  In the notes and acknowledgement Mr Faulks gives thanks to those who helped and assisted him with the novel to ensure the historical facts are as accurate as possible.  This story consists of 609 pages, it is quite a tome and took me two weeks to read.  This is not the fault of the book which I actually found difficult to put down, my lack of reading pace was due to time restraints.

Does a book have to be so big to be so good?  In this case, yes!  Every page was worth it and relevant to the story.  An excellent read and if you have the stamina, I recommend you to give it a go. 5*

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