Monday 1 September 2008
BOOK REVIEW: Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks
A difficult book to rate and review. Parts of it were sublime; the rest tedious and didactic. If it had been 250 pages shorter it would have been outstanding. As it stands, the beginning (full of hope) and the end (full of despair) were worth the read. I cried twice in this book: at the beauty of the opening pages and the pathos of the closing pages. It's a pity that the middle was such heavy going.
Obviously authors who've already made their name are allowed to ignore basic writing rules such as "show, don't tell". That's fine when it works but in this book, Faulks appears to take the easy way out and at times his "telling" ran into 22 consecutive pages with the occasional token "Thomas stood up" or "Thomas said" to break the monotony. (What was his editor thinking in letting these sections stand?!!?)
In addition, there were a few plot hooks that didn't lead anywhere. For example, the mysterious archivist in the lunatic asylum. The end hook of chapter VII was the dramatic announcement "My name, too, you see, is Midwinter". I was left wondering throughout the remaining 400 pages what the dramatic connection was to Dr Thomas Midwinter. But as this was neither concluded nor developed, I was frustrated. So why the emphasis?
Sometimes pretentious in language;at other times lecturing in tone, this book was still inhabited by marvellous characterisations throughout. Ultimately, it was a brave attempt at fictionalising a philosophy on what it is to be human that didn't quite work. The conclusion that the book brings one to is that to be human is to despair; hope is not an option because in the greater scheme of the universe to be human is to be insignificant. I prefer books that offer a less nihilistic view of our human experience.
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