Sunday, April 5, 2009

Human Traces - Sebastian Faulks

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 Product Description.

My Review:
Backstory: I bought this book in May 2006 in London. I was looking for an "epic" book and with 609 pages I got it. However I didn't start reading it until March 2007 while my daughter was in the NICU. I wanted a long book that I had no chance of finished while we was in the hospital (I guess sort of a mental trick - she couldn't have been in the hospital for that long if I didn't finish the book I was reading). I got about 2/3 the way through and was so involved with the characters I thought it best for me to stop reading because I feared their happiness at that point in the book was about to end.

This book sat under my bed 2/3 of the way finished for 2 years until this past Sunday I picked it up, daring to read the horrible things that I assumed were going to happen to the characters. I breezed through the rest of the book in a few days and the horrible things I had been imagining didn't happen. Or perhaps I had lost touch with the characters so when sad things happened it wasn't as personally devastating as it could have been.

I would categorize this as intellectual historical fiction. While reading I learned a lot about the history of psychiatry and it was written in a style similar to that of a book written at the turn of the century. The characters were compelling and relatable. The two main characters started out with very similar motivations but their emotional paths deviated throughout the story. Although the author could have used them both to tell a single story he instead separated their personalities and led them along divergent paths, despite their lifetime of professional partnershipand.

As I mentioned, I feared an emotional blow where tragedy struck the group but was instead pleasently surprised by the organic way the author developed the characters and their personal hardships. By end of the book I found I (justifiably I think) lost respect for the character I had cared most about and adored the character who showed the most weakness at the beginning of the book. I was also surprised to find that the main thesis of the book was illustrated by a secondary, female character who was present throughout the book but finally took her place as a main character at the end.

I think I would have stronger feelings for this book if I had read it all at once, but I respect the book for its subject matter and subdued storytelling over the lifetime of the two main characters. However, it was slow moving and at times dry (pages and pages of fictional lecture transcripts describing the various philosphies of the day).

My Rating: 3 stars

In One Sentence: Good book, thoughtful, long - worth reading if you want to make the commitment, but not life changing.

1 comment:

Heather said...

Sounds like an interesting book, though one you would have to be in the "right" frame of mind for.


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