Tuesday, 15 February 2011
I was half way through Sebastian Faulks' Human Traces when I watched the first episode of Faulks on Fiction (BBC4). This was a mistake. Suddenly I kept hearing Sebastian Faulks' voice and picturing his face as I got to the more didactic sections of the novel. Because it is a novel about teaching, in lots of ways, and how information is passed on. At the beginning of psychology, just starting to understand the brain and mental illnesses without resorting to terms such as hysteria, two young men from different backgrounds become friends, and eventually set up a sanatorium/clinic together. They spend a lot of time formulating ideas and giving lectures, sometimes touching on knowledge which is common to us nowadays, and sometimes going very wide of the mark.
Yeah, they do that a lot. A bit too much, really, I'd say, particularly as I kept hearing Faulks' voice in it. Having said that, I loved the female characters and their occasional interjections into this world, filled with common sense that gets roundly ignored.
And, of course, there were vegetables, which redeemed it in places. Here the two friends and their mutual muse, (Queenie/Sonia), have dinner after a lecture by a distinguished doctor:
'Yes,' said Thomas. 'That view. Queenie, did you understand the significance of what he said?'
'It was hard enough to understand the words.'
'Omelette,' said the waiter.
'The most important part was when he made it clear that emotions and memories can lodge in a part of the mind outside the usual mental processes - as it were in a vacuum, a sort of psychic Deauville. Here, they can actually be transformed into bodily symptoms which -'
'Herring and potatoes in oil?'
'When they are ready, can be expressed as tics, or pains or partial paralysis or -'
'And this,' interrupted Jacques, 'is the kind of authority we have long been looking for.'
Sonia sat back and smiled as Thomas and Jacques waved their knives and forks at one another.
There's a deft touch of humour here that I wish had punctuated other parts of the book. Overall, I'm glad I went along for the ride, but much preferred the inner workings of Engleby to the outer explanations of how the mind ticks.
As an afterthought, how interesting it is that knowing the author's face and voice should have been so offputting to the reading experience. Isn't this the antithesis of what modern publishing would have us believe?