Twenty first century English writer, soul of a nineteenth century European
Faulks is a fine and brave writer, perhaps slightly out of time in an age wedded to instant, easy gratification.
This is not a ‘holiday’ read, its a book which asks the reader to work hard and to reflect – which is not particularly something we expect our writers to do to us these days.
This book has a strong focus on the history of mental health approaches in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and the philosophical implications of a theory of mind that arose from these treatments. Faulks weaves this into a wider discourse on ‘what it means to be human’ with explorations into anthropology, and the implications of Darwinism and Mendelism.
The breadth and seriousness of his approach (NOT I think just an exposition of ideas or showing off his research) within the novel form reminded me so much of nineteenth century French writers like Zola and Flaubert – and also of the ‘epic Russians’ Tolstoy and Dostoievsky.
There was a time (no I’m not THAT old!) when i expected all writing to be like this – to educate, move, inspire me and cause me to reflect more deeply – but I’m just not used to being asked to work this hard any more!
I am really pleased I accepted the challenge this book sets – perhaps Faulks will drive me back into the arms of those challenging nineteenth century Europeans once more – its actually been great to have this sort of ‘history of high purpose’ in a novel.
And for a book which has a lot of ‘loss’ and heartache within its pages, it left me feeling strangely in awe of us, and our potential – for good, and for ill.