Wednesday, January 24, 2007

HUMAN TRACES - Sebastian Faulks - Vintage Paperback NZ$28.00

A friend of mine in the U.K. e-mailed me to say that for him this was his best read in all of 2006 and so as I respect his judgement I got myself a copy and spent four or five days during the holidays buried within its more than 600 pages.

This is a huge book, both in size and in subject matter.It is a long serious novel that requires concentration, effort, and total immersion by the reader. It is something like a novel by Dickens or Tolstoy in the myriad of characters and the detailed and meticulous accounts of each character's life.

If you like long serious reads and are prepared to give yourself over to this book for long periods of sustained reading, then this is a book for you.

Faulks is of course best known for his haunting novels, Birdsong and Charlotte Grey. This most recent work is quite different in terms of subject matter but on the other hand is similar in that the intricate plots and intense focus on the lives of his characters is certainly present.

The story follows the lives of a Frenchman and an Englishman who paths cross in 1880 when both are university students and who both go on to become doctors working with the mentally ill. The author follows their long careers and their family lives in a most entertaining fashion.

I was astonished at the author's ability to write in such a brilliant fashion for over 600 pages, he is a huge talent and I salute him.And goodness knows how much research he must have done in the field of various branches of mental illness.

I went to the back of the book to look for acknowledgements and was disappointed to find this brief Author's Note:

A list of all the people and some of the books I consulted while writing this novel appeared in the hardback edition, published by Hutchinson in August 2005. I would like to reiterate my thanks to all those named.

To publishers Hutchinson and Vintage, and too to Mr.Faulks I say not good enough. The acknowledgements should have been repeated in the paperback edition.
Do they really expect me to now go and hunt down the hardback edition at my local library to gain this information?


Mersey Mike said...

I agree with you generous comments about the intellectual impressiveness of Faulks' writing, both in this latest and in the earlier books you mention. But in this one, yes very Tolstoy I agree,
there was a bit too much for a lyaman reader about the mental illness. Did we really have to read whole lectures? In spite of that, a great book, I just hope that he has mental illness out of his system now!

Anonymous said...

I can understand Mersey Mike's comments but as one who has a very dear aunt in the early stages of dementia I found the whole mental illness theme interesting and actually helpful although I have to agree the author does go on a bit!
I bought this book because of the subject matter but I now plan to read the earlier titles that BB mentioned.

Anonymous said...

i find his writing a bit twee, sentimental and humdrum. its clearly written with the market in mind - there's no sense of real obsessive involvement - just 'telling a good story'.

not that there's anything wrong with that