Book review: ‘Human Traces’ by Sebastian Faulks


Human Traces is a thoroughly readable and informative novel.  There is nothing superficial, glib or glory-seeking in this fine author’s style. Reading his script brings respect and awe. Sebastian Faulks knows how to research his subject.

This novel succeeds on numerous levels. The one that appealed to me most was a description of the history of our understanding and treatment of mental illness. Having a member of the family suffer from this condition made the feelings and ideas of the lead characters, Thomas Midwinter and Jacques Rebière, intriguing, effective and realistic.  Their enthusiasm in their youth and how this changed over the years was particularly well portrayed.

I identified immediately with the academic ambitions of Thomas and the problems I encountered during my own PhD studies matched his particularly well.  No matter how many facts can be unearthed proving their causal relationship with the issue is very difficult.

On the personal level, the relationships between Thomas and Jacques, their marriages, children and their ups and downs over the years also rang true, although for me, Jacque’s affair near the end of the book was perhaps a little ‘over the top’.

Events occur in numerous places spanning Europe, America and Africa. The history and significance of these locations were an interesting integral part of the story.

If you want to think deeply about a subject; if you want to know the detail of the history of mental illness and its treatment; if you want to be well informed and if you want a good, long read – then this is the book for you.

Rosemary Westwell

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