He trained his ear back again to the darkness, to the depth of it. What he felt, when his mind had slowed sufficiently for him to find the words, was the grandeur of human insignificance. Sebastian Faulks, Human Traces
Human Traces follows the two friends, Jacques Rebière and Thomas Midwinter, from childhood to old age, through France, England, California, Austria and Africa. As young neurologists in the 1880s, Jacques and Thomas set out to understand what makes us human and to cure mental illness, but their ambitions, experiences and temperaments will threaten their friendship and even their own sanity.
This novel is itself very ambitious and creates a credible and compassionate account of how two well-intentioned, intelligent and scientifically minded men could change over time and come to such different conclusions.
Human Traces is one of those novels that stays with you for weeks afterwards, pondering how best to live and understand others.
When I finished this account of early neurology and psychiatry, I was saddened by how little progress has been made in 140 years since in the treatment of illnesses such as schizophrenia.