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3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
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on 30 June 2013
Had it not been for the fact that I was reading this book for my village book group. I would never have persevered to the end, and now that I have got to the end I feel that I have wasted many hours of my life on this tedious ans spurious nonsense.
I have enjoyed and admired everything else that I have read by Faulks, notably Birdsong, but I found this very disappointing and frustrating.

When the two protagonists meet by chance in a resort on the Normandy coast (Deauville?), they sit up all night talking about their mutual interest in the developing treatments for mental illness and by the morning, Thomas Midwinter has become magically fluent in French! I would otherwise have stopped reading at this point!

We are lead through a complex and similarly implausible narrative where the two friends miraculously earn enough money to establish their own clinic in Austria, easily acquiring a fluency in German along the way and enough wealthy clients to fund this ambitious and highly unlikely undertaking.

Then, when the narrative flags, Jacques takes himself off to California, for no very good or convincing reason and a little later, Thomas upsticks and joins an expedition to Africa. Both journeys serve little narrative purpose, other than perhaps suggesting exotic locations for some future potential film-maker. Later still, we learn of the exploits of Jacques' son in the trenches of the Great war; quite a nice little story but totally unnecessary for the furtherment of this narrative.

We are also treated with long and tedious lectures by the two protagonists on their differing attitudes to the treatment of mental illness.

This book totally failed to move me in any way and I had to force myself to carry on with it. My only feeling upon finishing the book was one of profound relief that it was over.

There could be a good book here but it seems to me that his editor has totally failed to do his/her job and it should have been their responsibility to edit this down to at least half its length, but maybe Faulks has now assumed such a position in the literary world that no-one dare tell him a few home truths; this book is a tedious bore! It makes the idea of reading the new Hilary Mantel seem quite attractive.

If you want to read a good book about the rising science of psychiatry try 'The white Hotel' by D.M. Thomas or even 'Waiting for Sunrise' by William Boyd.
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on 13 June 2010
This is one of the best books that I have read in the past year, and ranks as one of the top 100 of my past 50 years of reading. Superbly but unobtrusively researched, I engaged early on with the characters and their evolving stories. The writing aroused an emotional response at several stages, and left a feeling of having been there with the characters. Even the considerable content on human psychology was interesting as it portrayed the responses of specialists at a time of major steps forward in psychiatry. I want to read more by Faulks.
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on 13 July 2010
I have read most of Faulks books and enjoyed them all, especially Birdsong and Engleby. Unfotunately this one was like wading through treacle. I have tried to read it 3 times now and have finally given up. What a dull book, the thought of returning to it was not tempting at all. I found its one of those books, where you are only reading it because you have bought it and feel you ought to give it a good go. definately giving it to the charity shop now.
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on 24 August 2007
I am giving up on this book on page 580, with just 200 pages left. I have persevered because I hate abandoning a read. But I have just finished The Kite Runner (a sublime read) while putting Human Traces to one side and would rather persevere with Hunger's Brides, which is wonderful, but too heavy to carry around. Pretty keen to start Shantaram too.

I just thought I would see if the reviews here could tempt me to persist. They haven't and I agree with much of the negativity.

I loved A Suitable Boy. I have read widely and enjoyed Darwin, Ray Monk, Vikram Seth, Tolstoy as well as Tony Parsons. I try not to judge.
But this a complete waste of time. I couldn't care less about the characters. I couldn't care less about their ambition. And the author's desperation to involve readers in his rather bland sense of wonder infects every page, woefully.

It is indulgent, hackneyed and occasionally (and worst of all) pompous.

Do not waste your time. Life is too short and there are too many wonderful books to read.
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on 8 July 2008
I have been an admirer of the writing of Sebastian Faulks and am interested in the history of management of mental illness but this book stretched one's loyalty to the limits. There are long passages where I can hardly believe Faulks is the author; passages of 'he said to her and she replied to him' sort of dialogue, which are totally lacking in any literary merit. It would have benefitted from the wielding of a ruthless editorial scalpel.
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on 4 September 2009
I did not want this book to end, I enjoyed it so much. I do not agree with the reviewer who found it too long. It was very well researched and brilliantly written. The descriptions were vivid and moving. The characters came to life and their search for a cure for mental illness engrossing. It was very sad that one of the doctors, Thomas himself succumbed to Alzheimer's disease which he accepted with resignation.
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on 16 June 2008
This is a very rare find - a novel that is engrossing as a story and makes you think and consider some real questions about the human mind and existence. At times the pace was a bit slow and then towards the end the events came too thick and fast but overall this is a gem of a book. At time humourous, at others shocking this is a truly grown-up novel that challenges and entertains in equal measure.
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on 16 May 2008
My favourite Faulks by far. He portrayal of his character's commitment to their careers and to humanity, is inspirational and has indeed inspired me to change my career path. His characterisation of women is superb and my empathy with Sonia is testimony to this. It is epic in it proportions and spans a fascinating period of social/ medical and political history. I wept at the end.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 11 September 2011
Human Traces, indeed. There are traces of human behaviour and human fatalities in this book, but it is a congested and strangely unsatisfying read. In trying so hard and working so diligently towards comprehensibility Faulks has overburdened the novel with description. The problem is that in trying to cover so much of mental illness and being a doctor in a time that great discoveries were made, he has lost contact with the human stories. It is the human stories that resonate in the novel, which preserves its difference from dissertation. Around 50 per cent is so much psychiatry and the novel is not the place for this.

The stories do resonate, particularly that of the women, but the writing suffers. Conversation is often stilted and sometimes clichéd and unwieldy. Faulks has found a number of slots to put his people in and he resolutely keeps them there. I found much of this book far too static and clumsy - lectures given whole and unremitting - this does not work in a novel.

The book is at least 200 pages too long, if not more. Yet one can see the serious intent in a work given over to the study of madness and the treatment of insanity. It is a challenging subject and Faulks makes a good stab at it, but gets caught up in its complexities. I really wanted to like this book, but it defeated me.
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on 25 January 2007
Like others I found this book occasionally gripping, occasionally difficult. The outstanding passage for me, however, was in Chapter 17 when Faulks is describing the content and impact of Olivier's voices. I found this an amazing piece of insightful writing.
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