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helenliz

helenliz

Human Traces

Human Traces - Sebastian Faulks This isn't a book you can dip in and out of, it requires some serious attention. But that's not to say it doesn't reward you for spending the time on it. There are passages that are a delight to read, capturing perfectly the emotional peaks and troughs of being human. The text is somewhat technical, with lots of discussion of psychology, physiology, neurology and the like. A glossary would have helped, I feel. There is something of that nature, but it appears at about page 175, by which time you've already got a little confused. Tells the story of a lifetime of effort with the aspiration to cure the insane. Two young men meet in France in 1870s, from very different backgrounds and groundings, but both unite in their goal. Jaques is from a French peasant family and is inspired by science - and trying to bring his brother back from his own personal hell. Thomas is from a well to do English family and has gravitated to trying to discover the secrets of madness from discovering the depictions of madness in literature. And there you have the two opposing approaches to finding the soul - is it a physical thing, or a thing of poetry and something too will-o-the-wisp to pin down.The book follows these two boys from their youth to their old age as they try, from different points and with differing degrees of success, to cure the insane. It's an impossible task, and the book ends with one of them succumbing to one of the diseases they've been involved in looking for. There are touches of brilliance, Jaques declaring his love makes the heart leap with pleasure, the case of Kitty has you fearing for their future, while one of them describing his imminent dementia was heart breaking. It was shortly followed by what I'd call a "Wonderful Life" scenario - while they may not have achieved what they set out to do, they haven't found a cure for madness, they have achieved something that is overlooked, but vitally important - they've made the lives of many people better - and that can't be considered insignificant. It is a bit long and the technical language can get pretty dense, but it is worth persisting with. The idea of what is it that makes us human is a question that we still don't have an answer and the surmise that madness is the evolutionary accompaniment of madness is an attractive one (for those that don't fall unlucky in the genetic lottery). This certainly makes you think, not only about the big questions of what it is to be human, but about the emotions that each human undergoes through a lifetime. There is something very beautiful in this book.