Human Traces
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Human Traces

3.54 of 5 stars 3.54  ·  rating details  ·  2,240 ratings  ·  203 reviews
As young boys both Jacques Rebière and Thomas Midwinter become fascinated with trying to understand the human mind. As psychiatrists, their quest takes them from the squalor of the Victorian lunatic asylum to the crowded lecture halls of the renowned Professor Charcot in Paris; from the heights of the Sierra Madre in California to the plains of unexplored Africa.


As the con...more
Paperback, 793 pages
Published July 6th 2006 by Vintage (first published August 29th 2005)
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Maciek
Human Traces is a a huge and ambitious novel, which aims to explore the development of psychiatry, psychoanalysis and neurology in the late 19th and early 20th century. It took Sebastian Faulks five years to write, and involved spending hundreds of hours on research and creating charts and timelines to keep track of events and characters.

The novel begins in the 1876, with the introduction of the two protagonists - Jacques Rebiere and Thomas Midwinter. They are both 16 years old, and although se...more
Katie
Angst. The sea. Absent parents. Madness. The development of psychiatry and neurology in the latter part of the 19th century. Great, provocative subject matter. And yet, with such interesting material, Faulks manages to create the sloggiest slog of a book that ever needed to be slogged through. It was like historical fiction at its worst: the characters were a flimsy prop used to explore the themes of madness and mad doctoring. Faulks wrote much more interestingly and passionately about the theor...more
Judy Croome
A difficult book to rate and review. Parts of it were sublime; the rest tedious and didactic. If it had been 250 pages shorter it would have been outstanding. As it stands, the beginning (full of hope) and the end (full of despair) were worth the read. I cried twice in this book: at the beauty of the opening pages and the pathos of the closing pages. It's a pity that the middle was such heavy going.

Obviously authors who've already made their name are allowed to ignore basic writing rules such as...more
Amelia
The amount of research Sebastian Faulks clearly does into his chosen subject matter leaves many, if not most, authors in the dust. This gives his writing a certain intelligence and a well-informed feel, but it does also have its flaws. Chiefly, that his books are over long. I felt this with Birdsong and again here with Human Traces. Don't get me wrong, the subject matter was fascinating - and admittedly horrifying in places - but by the time I got to page 400 my interest had largely died and I d...more
Catherine
This is an absolutely fascinating book that weaves medicine, travel, psychology, paeleo-anthropology, religion, evolution, history, literature - and probably a few more things besides - into the tale of the sometimes strained relationships between two fallible people from very different backgrounds. Thomas' theory to explain the existence and continuation of the apparantly maladaptive trait of hearing voices is a masterly synthesis that is intriguingly credible: even though I know that it would...more
Alex
i was stuck in the airport in dublin waiting for my flight to new york, without any reading material (the horror!!). thus, i picked this out of the meager selections the airport store had. they were featuring Faulks, as an Irish British author. i was skeptical (i hadn't ever heard of him before). but i loved this book -- partially because i like complex philosophical/psychological/scientific ruminations, and this book had plenty of that. it's as if he was trying to answer the question of "what i...more
Jane
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...more
Angela Herd
I'm on page 638 of 787 of Human Traces: Really enjoying this book, a fictional story based around fact and the early stages of attempts to understand mental illness and psychosis; the beginnings of psychiatry and psychology. It offers a fascinating, insightful, as well as beautifully-articulated understanding of the origins of such 'illnesses', drawing together various schools of thought and much of the scientific theory we have come to understand as providing the most sensible (and sensical) ex...more
Paul
On the whole I enjoyed this; it was a wide scope, from the 1860s to the 1920s and ranges across Europe the US and Africa. It tells the story of two men, Thomas Midwinter and Jacques Rebiere and their dreams of working out how the human mind functions and solving the problem of madness. There are lengthy descriptions of nineteenth century psychiatry and the development of some modern ideas with the theory of evolution and the human condition thrown in.
The book is at its strongest when dealing wi...more
Sue
A slow, academic but impressively ambitious novel with meticulous research into the story of 19th century psychiatry. This is a sweeping 2-generation saga, mostly set in Europe, about 2 friends who at the turn of the century pursue psychiatry (for different reasons) & become lifelong partners. Their quest is to understand madness, the evolution of the brain and what makes us human.
This story was not as compelling as 'Birdsong,' and it fact it got a little turgid in the middle. As with the l...more
Louise Brown
Jul 22, 2007 Louise Brown rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: amateur psychiatrists
Great characters with captivating storylines and incredible backdrops from gruesome Victorian asylums to mountains of Switzerland to African deserts - but too educative to make an enjoyable and satisfying read. It reads like a deliberate attempt at the construction of a story around the history and theories of psychology, I'm not sure that characters or plot necessarily came first which is maybe why the book plods a little.
Ron
I was really looking forward to reading this book: highly recommended, by an author I enjoy and on a fascinating topic. The idea of two young Victorian psychiatrists [or alienists as they were called] meeting and forming a new method of treating insanity interested me greatly, and so I started the book with great anticipation. The female characters in the story were even more interesting, Sonia with her eye for organisation, and those that turned from being patients to being part of the family a...more
Riff
Oh dear. This is one of the most unfortunate books I've read in quite some time. Sebastian Faulks has a name in popular historical fiction and Human Traces, which seemed to promise a fascinating tale of two 19th century pioneers of psychiatry - a subject I have a strong interest in - gave me high hopes for a quality read. It is clear that Faulks is a functional writer who knows how to construct a novel, but while the subject has obviously been meticulously researched I found the prose somewhat b...more
LindyLouMac
When I started reading 'Human Traces' for the first fifty pages I was unsure it was going to appeal to me. Once the introductions to the two protagonists had been made and the author went on to describe their first meeting it was starting to work for me.

The first protagonist we meet is Jacques Rebiere, a farmers son from Brittany with an interest in science and a love for his mentally disturbed brother Olivier. Olivier is treated like an animal by the rest of his family, only Jacques seems to ha...more
Derek Bridge
Human Traces sits alongside Birdsong as one of Faulks's masterpieces. The backdrop are the events of the last half of the 19th century and first half of the twentieth - not just the First World War, but more especially developments in science, evolution, medicine, psychiatry and psychology. The intense relationship between the two main characters is soured over a fundamental disagreement - the hubris of the worst excesses of Freudian psychobabble against the groundedness of neuropsychology. But...more
Inna
At first, I was indulged with the book. I was wondering about the future of Jacques and Thomas. What was wrong with Jacques' brother? How was their friendship going to be like? Somehow, in the beginning, I thought, "Hey this should be a good story. I like Medicine, I might like this."
I was not even halfway when I realize, "This is going to be another story that will be in my shelf for the next few months stuck two hundred pages till the end." Indeed, that was true. I read it when I could, stopp...more
Annalee
The story of two pioneering 'alienists' struggling to find a cure for 'madness' in the 19th century was at most times enjoyable and enlightening, though sometimes a bit hard going.

I preferred the parts of the book that dealt with the personal lives of the two main characters, their personal relationships, families and other loved ones. The book covers quite a long span, from their childhood to old age, I do love a good saga!

Less enjoyable were the long parts detailing what might or might not be...more
Laura
This could have been a fantastic book. A brilliant beginning to what promised to be an interesting story but it never happened. The two main characters were interesting enough to have carried a story and, when Faulks allowed them to do so, it was as good as anything he's written.

However, huge chunks read like an outdated psychology text book and added nothing to the narrative. The love affair between one of the characters and his wife was odd in that he saw her in the corridor one day and was vi...more
Andrew Clifford
Faulks is one of the best novelists I have ever read. This is a hard one to score... as talented as he is, Human Traces gets bogged down under the weight of his research, and though it contains some awesome writing it is also too clunky and awkward for long segments, including a 20-30 page chunk of pure medical speak. Too much, it needed some editing and polishing!

Strangely enough it makes me want to read more Faulks. This was a great experiment that almost worked - impressive novel but I will n...more
Hannah
Jun 17, 2007 Hannah rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: No one. Ever.
Shelves: fiction, hated-it, gave-up
I found this book slow-moving and, in parts, dull meaning this novel actually took me several weeks to finish, and I consequently got bored with the plot fairly quickly. However, I loved the characters in the story, and Sebastian Faulks' style of writing made them develop into real, 3D human beings, really connecting them with the reader making 'Human Traces' an emotionally involving and thought provoking read.
Rachel
Beautifully characterised with brilliant period detail (particularly detail of early psychiatry!). In many ways, not that much happens in this novel. And everything happens. Loved it.
Gill
Anyone interested in the development of psychiatry and psychology as well as enjoying a strong story line should read this book - fascinating, I wished it would keep going...
Paul
I was drawn first to Faulks's war novels, but this book is by far the best thing of his I have read. It is wonderful
James Folan
Cardboard 19th-century psychiatric folk plod through 600 pages of stodgy research.
Tiffany Williams
SPOILERS

I adored this book. I read it over three weeks, which helped a lot with the drier, research-heavy passages, but also in realising the epic scale of the whole thing.

Thomas and Jacques, in considering where madness comes from, find themselves up against the greater question of why we as a species have been endowed with this extraordinary mental capacity, and if it's even worth having. There are two separate passages, when they are both respectively travelling alone after a career plateau,...more
Debbie Robson
This book was surprisingly a faster read than I expected considering the subject matter and the size. Faulks is now one of my favourite writers and I intend to go back and read all of his novels that I've missed. It is staggering to think of the amount of research needed to write this book. The history of the study of madness, as Faulks so brilliant depicts, is a long convoluted one with some doctors lost in the mire of false diagnosises and others completely "off base" and of course it takes it...more
Ian Mapp
An ambitious monster from the ever reliable faulks. This tells the story of friendship, marriage and families of two imminent doctors, specialising in mental health.

Jacques Rebeire is from poor french stock and has an elder brother with mental issues. This explains his desire to unlock the histories of the human brain.

Thomas Midwinter is richer and more interested in literature. There is a running theme between the book about literature and mental health, referring to health problems as like typ...more
Camilla P.
Questo romanzo, lo ammetto, mi mette in difficoltà: se, da una parte, mi è piaciuto molto, dall’altra ho riscontrato diversi difetti che non mi hanno permesso di apprezzarlo del tutto.

La storia, sin dalla trama, mi aveva attirata subito e mi aveva spinto a comprare il libro, mentre vagavo nell’aeroporto di Manchester, aspettando il mio volo: la psichiatria, i primi passi della neurologia e tutto ciò che, in sintesi, riguarda lo studio della mente umana, sono argomenti di incredibile interesse pe...more
Sunflower
This book was on my TBR shelf for four years, and after finishing it I think my instincts were good. It is over 600 pages of closely spaced text that could have done with some severe editing; seriously, this was a mission to finish. Why? with subject matter like two young enthusiastic doctors in the 1860's who decide they have to find out how the mind works, and what causes mental illness? They become "mad-doctors" in charge of "lunatics" and over their lifetimes their careers and families devel...more
Andrew
I probably should have learnt by now. I keep looking at the subject of Faulks’ books and thinking that they sound very dull. Then someone recommends one to me so I grudgingly pick it up. Then I realise that it is actually really good and can’t put it down again. Maybe I should just read his entire output!

Human Traces is set in the late nineteenth century and the First World War. It follows the lives of two psychiatrists (or ‘alienists’) Thomas and Jacques, who first meet briefly as children but...more
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Sebastian Faulks was born in 1953, and grew up in Newbury, the son of a judge and a repertory actress. He attended Wellington College and studied at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, although he didn’t enjoy attending either institution. Cambridge in the 70s was still quite male-dominated, and he says that you had to cycle about 5 miles to meet a girl. He was the first literary editor of “The Independe...more
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