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Human Traces Paperback – 2 Mar 2006


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Product details

  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Hutchinson; New edition edition (2 Mar 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0091796873
  • ISBN-13: 978-0091796877
  • Product Dimensions: 22.6 x 14.4 x 4.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (115 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,582,594 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sebastian Faulks was born in April 1953. Before becoming a full-time writer in 1991, he worked as a journalist. His French trilogy - The Girl at the Lion d'Or, Birdsong and Charlotte Gray (1989-1997) - established him in the front rank of British novelists. UK sales of Birdsong exceed 2,500,000 copies, and for this novel he was named "Author of the Year" by the British Book Awards in 1995. It is regularly voted one of the nation's favourite books. Charlotte Gray has also sold over a million copies and was filmed with Cate Blanchett in the main part.

Product Description

Review

"* 'It is of a Russian novelist, Tolstoy, that one finds oneself thinking while reading Human Traces - something about the novel's lovely but unnerving mixture of epic grandeur and shattering personal simplicity; the burning, idealistic engagement with the human condition of its principal characters; and the infinitely touching courage of their attempts to make a difference. This is a bold and remarkable work of imagination' - Jane Shilling, Sunday Telegraph * 'An erudite and lyrical exposition of early psychiatry which is as illuminating as a floodlight in the dark... Human Traces improves on all its predecessors in its scale, its complexity and its scholarship' - Independent on Sunday * 'Faulks emerges as a writer with muscle, with affinities to the great Europeans: Thomas Mann, Balzac, Stendhal... But Faulks has not jettisoned his novelist's instincts and what gives Human Traces its pathos and power is the sense of our abiding frailty before life's intransigent mysteries and the dimness of our rational understanding' - Sally Vickers, The Times * 'Shocking and enlightening... Faulks has a great ability to meld scientific theory with human drama... Its ambition is admirable; its entertainment value... is equally undeniable' - Philip Hoare, Daily Mail"

Book Description

'Samuel West's tender, melifluous narration is superb' Observer --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Joanne Schofield on 7 Feb 2006
Format: Hardcover
Unfortunately I have to agree with the comments from the reviewer below - far too much detail. I started Human Traces eagerly and found it to be very interesting, particularly the descriptions of typical mental asylums in the 19th Century. But…. after about 200 pages my interest started to wane. I don’t wish to do the author a disservice as the time and effort Faulks has spent researching psychiatry is clearly evident and incredibly impressive, however I picked this book from the shelf thinking it was going to be an interesting (and, knowing Faulks, possibly thought provoking) work of fiction, not a dissertation on the history of mental illness. But unfortunately that’s what it turned out to be. At certain points Faulks literally transcribes speeches and lectures from the characters regarding their thoughts on psychiatry; one of which lasts for 22 pages!
Aside from that, I did enjoy the plot and enjoyed seeing how life treated Jacques and Thomas over the years. Ultimately this is a very interesting book and I’m sure those who have a particular interest in the field of neurology and psychology would hugely enjoy this book, but it was just too didactic for my liking.
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66 of 69 people found the following review helpful By LS Hamilton on 18 Dec 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was recommended to me, but before I started reading it I foolishly read some of the reviews on Amazon. This put me off starting it and then while I was reading it I kept waiting for it to become hard going or boring. It never did. I will say as others have said that sometimes the text and ideas are hard to follow and need reading over a couple of times, but these sections only last a few pages and soon you are back reading the beautiful family saga which the book ultimately is.

Sebastian Faulks has taken his obvious interest in the thoughts and philosophies of humans and woven them into a deeply human and touching story. I loved all the characters and cared for them. It was one of those books which I couldn't wait to get to bed to read and woke up early in the morning to see what would happen next.

It explores what it means to be human which although set in the past is very relevant to today. It gives insight into scientific research and the ways that new ideas are put forward then discounted or fall out of fashion. It made me realise that we are still a long long way from understanding the human mind one hundred years later.

I thought the ending was perfect and very satisfying. An incredibly rewarding book which makes you marvel at the skill of the writer.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By ghostinthemachine1 on 8 Jun 2006
Format: Paperback
I got this at Christmas, and have just finished it five months later, which gives you an idea of how motivated I was to keep reading it! Not that it's bad - it had many interesting parts, and definitely got better as it went on. I just found that for the most part, the main objective of the book was an exposition of psychiatry and psychoanalysis around the beginning of the 20th century, with a novel tacked on the side. Really, to hold the reader's interest, it should have been the other way round - the novel, with its characters, themes, narrative to the foreground, and to explore the medical themes within that framework.

As it was, I found the characters dull and flat, and the narrative drive non existent - for much of the book, there was no drama, no conflict - everyone's lives went by without anything particularly interesting happening apart from medical lectures and patient examinations, much of which I have to admit I found just far too technical to really want to read.

A shame, because it is obviously very well written, and the good bits really held my attention. By far the best section of the book was Thomas's visit to Africa, which was interesting both in terms of what would happen and whether the expedition would make it back safely, and in the discovery of the footprints and Thomas's subsequent discourse on our ancestors and the voices they heard, which was both amazingly thought-provoking and incredibly moving. Daniel's experiences in the war were also a highlight - as was Thomas's announcement to the family that he has Alzheimer's, which was the most moving part of the book.

So in summary - all the bits in lecture halls or consulting rooms: too technical. All the bits about the idyllic life in the schloss: too boring. Everything else: great!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mr. S. J. Bonsor VINE VOICE on 14 Sep 2007
Format: Paperback
When I reviewed Engleby I wrote that I had had difficulty in getting past the first few pages of this book, but having been pleasantly surprised by Faulks' latest offering, I went back and made another effort. Suffice to say I did manage to read the novel this time.

Human Traces is a curious book. I started it in high hopes, as it had that solid, cogent, intelligent feel to it- much as `Birdsong'. However, it became harder going as it progressed, and I ended up feeling that somehow it didn't properly reward the effort of having read it.

There was clearly a great deal of research involved in the construction of this novel: not least the arcana of late nineteenth century scholarship on psychiatry. Faulks isn't the only writer to found fictional work on factual study- take Julian Barnes' `Arthur and George' for example, or in the Theatre Tom Stoppard's glittering and thought-provoking takes on string theory or code-breaking. The problem with Human Traces is that it gives the reader a misplaced expectation that something momentous is about to occur, when in fact nothing significant does.

I can see that this might be a clever ploy: after all, not every scientific endeavour is rewarded with a breakthrough, or a re-interpretation of accepted theories, and not all lives are destined to be glorious (few are!). In which case the `argument' of human traces is `What effect do we have on the world?' and `What `traces' do we leave behind?'. From that point of view, the novel is quite eloquent on the desolation life wreaks on our hopes and expectations, and indeed what we believe others to be capable of.
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