Review: 'The Humans' - Matt Haig
“After an ‘incident’ one wet Friday night where he is found walking naked through the streets of Cambridge, Professor Andrew Martin is not feeling quite himself. Food sickens him. Clothes confuse him. Even his loving wife and teenage son are repulsive to him. He feels lost among a crazy alien species and hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton, and he’s a dog.”
Author: Matt Haig Series?: No Source & Format: Hardcover from WH Smith Bookshop. Rating: 4.5/5
The Humans is a novel bursting with droll humour and heart-felt moments that examines our species through an impartial lens.
Andrew Martin has been replaced with an alien clone, sent to destroy evidence of his world-altering mathematical breakthrough. His home planet, Vonnodoria, is a place of logic and reason where ‘the only religion is mathematics’. This book, narrated by the impostor, serves as a handbook to other Vonnodorians on how to survive in the emotionally charged and irrational human society.
It is not blaringly obvious from the cover what this novel is about; there is no emphasis on the ‘alien’ narrator or the sci-fi nature of the story. But this was a smart choice on Haig’s part. It means the preconceptions of science fiction do not alienate potential readers, who may feel disinterest towards yet another story about aliens coming to earth. And whilst the plot is slightly predictable – an alien assassin who dislikes humanity becomes enamoured by its quirks and begins to care for his targets – this is actually what allows the narrative to breathe. It is not dominated by physical action and events, which allowed Haig to focus on the changes in our Vonnodarian narrator. It becomes a novel less about UFOs and other worlds and more about understanding the complexities of our own.
The narrator’s mocking tone in the beginning quickly turns to admiration and the Romantic view of the world he provides is contagious to the reader. His encounters with culture stand out in particular, as he captures perfectly the sentimentality in art.
‘They are lost, that is how I understand it. And that is why they invented art: books, music, films, plays, painting, sculpture. They invented them as bridges back to themselves, back to who they are.’
Haig has the ability to make the reader look at themselves from an outside perspective, laughing at our paradoxical quirks and feel sadness for the pains of human interaction. But it shows that feeling at your worst is better than feeling nothing at all. And even more importantly, it is worth it to experience the highs of being human.