The Skill of Sebastian Faulks

June 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

HUMAN TRACES

Faulks

It’s true; there are some writers who, time and time again, accomplish artistic excellence. For me, Sebastian Faulks is one of them. I first encountered him (as I think is the case with many) through Birdsong, 7 years ago, – a compulsory read on a course about First World War Literature. But it wasn’t until a year ago, when I dug Charlotte Grey out of a tatty cardboard box under Waterloo bridge, that I realised – or remembered – just how fantastic he is. Since then, I have picked up The Fatal Englishman and Human Traces, the latter of which I am currently reading and has inspired this post.

Straddling the worlds of late 19th century England, France, Austria, America and Africa, it tells the story of Jacques and Thomas; two friends who are fused together by a passion to achieve something great whilst battling with the question of what it means to be human. Parts of the story are confusing, other bits are terrifying, whilst other chapters are just darn beautiful. The novel spans the course of their lives, offering a depth of insight into the main characters that is both enthralling and frustrating. I have not finished yet, but thus far it has been a story that has captured my attention (Even if some parts, heavy in their scientific description, have gone over my head somewhat!) The questions it raises; about how fleeting life is, and whether or not it is possible to make a life significant, are piercingly relevant… leaving me wishing that I were reading the book alongside others, that I might discuss all of my rambling thoughts with them!

I’ll leave you with where I have left off. “Oh Katharina. I was sitting at the end of the trail, as though waiting for the three to come and meet me. I picked a tiny white flower with a purple centre which withered almost at once in my hand.

I thought of you, my love, and I thought of our children and what we have become. I thought of the demented wretches in the stinking wards of my old asylum. I remembered poor Olivier and his torments. I thought, too, of the sleepy voice that all my youth would speak to me… then slipped away. I thought of the terrible briefness of all our breathing lives.

And in the cool of the evening sun, I lay down and I placed my hand in the child’s full and perfect footprint. And it was warm. Not hot – because the sun was fading fast, but it was warm with the stored heat of the day: it was, in fact, blood-heat.

And I am not ashamed to tell you that I lowered my face into the earth and howled.”

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