As young boys both Jacques Rebière and Thomas Midwinter become fascinated with trying to understand the human mind. As psychiatrists, their quest takes them from the squalor of the Victorian lunatic asylum to the crowded lecture halls of the renowned Professor Charcot in Paris; from the heights of the Sierra Madre in California to the plains of unexplored Africa.
As the concerns of the old century fade and the First World War divides Europe, the two men's volatile relationship develops and changes, but is always tempered by one exceptional woman; Thomas's sister Sonia.
Moving and challenging in equal measure, Human Traces explores the question of what kind of beings men and women really are.
Set at the dawn of modern psychiatry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, British author Faulks's vast, elegant novel follows two "mad-doctors," Thomas Midwinter and his close friend Jacques Rebi re, as they struggle to contribute something great to the emerging discipline. A chance meeting in 1880 leads to a lifelong partnership that lasts through journeys around the Continent and across the Atlantic. The pair vow to unlock the secrets of consciousness, and the novel traces their experiences in the hellish asylums of the day and their diverging approaches to the field. As Jacques grows interested in the Viennese school of psychoanalysis and talk therapy, Thomas focuses on the neurological and evolutionary mechanisms that lead to psychosis. Faulks (Birdsong) shines in his dramatization of Thomas's lectures, presaging contemporary arguments about chemical imbalances. While his characters attempt to discover what makes us human, Faulks also meticulously depicts grief, longing, nostalgia and melancholy through a portrait of Thomas's sister, Sonia. Faulks marries extensive research with a satisfying narrative arc to create a novel that is compelling as both history and literature.