From Publishers Weekly
Set at the dawn of modern psychiatry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, British author Faulks's vast, elegant novel follows two "mad-doctors," Thomas Midwinter and his close friend Jacques Rebière, as they struggle to contribute something great to the emerging discipline. A chance meeting in 1880 leads to a lifelong partnership that lasts through journeys around the Continent and across the Atlantic. The pair vow to unlock the secrets of consciousness, and the novel traces their experiences in the hellish asylums of the day and their diverging approaches to the field. As Jacques grows interested in the Viennese school of psychoanalysis and talk therapy, Thomas focuses on the neurological and evolutionary mechanisms that lead to psychosis. Faulks (Birdsong
) shines in his dramatization of Thomas's lectures, presaging contemporary arguments about chemical imbalances. While his characters attempt to discover what makes us human, Faulks also meticulously depicts grief, longing, nostalgia and melancholy through a portrait of Thomas's sister, Sonia. Faulks marries extensive research with a satisfying narrative arc to create a novel that is compelling as both history and literature. (Sept.)
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It's daunting to begin a lengthy novel on the early history of psychiatry, but Faulks' latest (after Green Dolphin Street
) is less stodgy than this description suggests. In 1880, Jacques Rebiere, a Breton medical student, meets young Englishman Thomas Midwinter at a resort in Deauville, France. They're overjoyed to discover a mutual fascination with the human mind, "the meeting point between thought and flesh." Over the next 35 years, with the help of Thomas' sister, Sonia, they single-mindedly pursue their goal: to run a clinic that will cure, not merely house, the mentally ill. Their mission takes them from the overcrowded Salpetriere Hospital in Paris to the mountains of Austria, and from California's Sierra Madres to the dry African plains, where the earliest humans walked; when describing physical landscapes, Faulks' prose is sublime. He shapes his characters' personalities with a surgeon's gentle precision, but with voluminous pages of case notes and lectures, the novel hardly wears its research lightly. Continually fascinating despite its density, this intellectual epic explores the uneasy relationship between madness and humanity. Sarah JohnsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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