Sunday, August 28, 2005


Sebastian Faulks's
Human Traces (2005)

THERE is much to savour in the novels of Sebastian Faulks. By exploring the mingled affairs of love and war, tempered with lots of dramatic tension and convincing period details, this British novelist has written a number of engrossing novels over the years. His best known novel is, of course, Charlotte Gray (1998), where a Scotswoman journeys into German-occupied France during War War II to aid the French Resistance and to rescue her missing RAF pilot lover at the same time. His other known works include Birdsong (1993) and The Fatal Englishman: Three Short Lives (1996), a multiple biography of three historical personalities.

A novelist who finds difficulty seeing much grandeur in contemporary British society, Faulks seems most at home writing about turn-of-the-century England and France. His new novel, Human Traces (2005), set against the backdrop of Vienna at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries in the heyday of psychiatry, where the two protagonists compete with each other to understand the workings of the human mind and explore what causes madness, is probably his most ambitious work to date. An intellectual sprawl of a novel, Human Traces explores what makes us who we are and concludes that life is such that things are never what they seem to be.

“Peter Gregory kicked the door of the dispersal hut closed behind him with the heel of his boot. He sensed the iciness of the air outside but was too well wrapped to feel it on his skin. He looked up and saw a big moon hanging still, while ragged clouds flew past and broke up like smoke in the darkness. He began to waddle across the grass, each step won from the limits of movement permitted by the parachute that hung down behind as he bucked and tossed his way forward. He heard the clank of the corporal fitter’s bicycle where it juddered over the ground to his right. The chain needed oiling, he noted; the man was in the wrong gear and a metal mudguard was catching on the tyre with a rhythmic slur as the wheel turned.” Sebastian Faulks, in Charlotte Gray (1998)

FAULKS Sebastian [1953-] Novelist, biographer. Born in Newbury, England. NOVELS Human Traces (2005); On Green Dolphin Street (2001); Charlotte Gray (1998: shortlisted for the 1998 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction); Birdsong (1993); A Fool's Alphabet (1992); The Girl at the Lion d'Or (1989); A Trick of the Light (1984) BIOGRAPHY The Fatal Englishman: Three Short Lives (1996) EDITED The Vintage Book of War Stories (with Jörg Hensgen) (1999)


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