Time and space are frequently traversed in this masterful novel by Sebastian Faulks. The protagonist, Robert Hendricks, is a doctor with a past that, if he's not keen to hide he's certainly keen to forget. That is until he receives communication from a man called Alexander Pereira, whom wishes to meet Hendricks and discuss a subject of mutual interest.
The main themes brought out in the novel are those of memory and the seemingly inevitability of the brokenness of humanity that must be faced. According to Hendricks, anyway. The 20th Century, to him, is that of psychosis - a century in which the world truly saw the worst of the human race. And, to be fair, he isn't exactly wrong.
From the lesser known battlefields of Italy in the second world war, a desperate love story that is so fragile and beautiful because of its necessary transience, to the search for hope through curing the seemingly invincible battles of the mind, the threads of Robert's journey are brought together and examined. Individually and collectively, they are significant, Pereira encourages him.
What Hendricks seems to fear most is an empty and wasted life. He has seen more than humans should ever seen, done both physical and mental battle, and he feels it is pointless. However, through his visits to Pereira, he starts slowly to examine them in a different way. By the end of the novel, he has found if not some sort of peace, then acceptance.
The end of the novel is, I think, the most heartbreaking and moving part of the story. An undercurrent of the novel is Hendricks' relationship to his father, or lack thereof. He was only two when his father died and his mother was unwilling to speak of him. Pereira, after much agonising, draws back the veil and Hendricks finally gets some kind of closure, but still while confirming some of his fears of mankind. However, it's not all bad. What Hendricks gets from his father is that which he needs - the knowledge that he is loved and that love, despite everything else, can bring meaning and wholeness to things that can otherwise be seen as fruitless and empty.