The Humans, by 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 amongst a crazy alien species and hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton, and he’s a dog.
Who is he really? And what could make someone change their mind about the human race?
“The single biggest act of bravery or madness anyone can do is the act of change.”
The Humans was a surprise that I was not expecting. I picked it up from the library after dropping off Will Grayson, Will Grayson hoping for a quick, silly book to dull the intensity of the books I’d been reading recently. I was in a rush to catch my bus so ‘The Humans’ caught my eye, a nice cover with a funny blurb that would probably be fast and easy to read. A novel about an alien that has to understand human customs and all the weird subtext we use.
Boy, was I wrong.
“To experience beauty on Earth, you needed to experience pain and to know mortality. That is why so much that is beautiful on this planet has to do with time passing and the Earth turning.”
I really, really loved this book. Right away I could tell that it wasn’t going to be like all the other cheap alien stories or the funny one I was expecting. I’ve heard that there are a lot of novels out there like this one, about taking an otherworldly organism with which to view Earth and humanity with and critique it. I haven’t read any of those yet, but this one was just amazing, and really made me think about how we work, as humans, from a different perspective and kind of put into words all these things I’d been thinking and wondering about.
It started off as light-hearted and embodying the humour I was expecting, of an alien trying to figure out why clothes existed, the strangeness of a human’s face, asking about the point of marriage and square buildings, looking at a Cosmopolitan magazine. An alien trying to fit into humanity and understand these concepts that I think a lot of us don’t understand anyway. Things like body language, why we care so much about ‘hair’ and ‘clothes’. All these hidden languages we use to understand each other because we can’t or won’t put it into words, ‘The Things We Do To Make Ourselves Happy But Actually Make Us Miserable’.
“This was, I would later realise, a planet of things wrapped inside things. Food inside wrappers. Bodies inside clothes. Contempt inside smiles. Everything was hidden away.”
Then we were introduced to the characters. I loved them. They all seemed completely real, unlike all those comedic characters in funny books that seem to do the most ridiculous things just for the sake of it, for a laugh. There was a real marriage that the alien was struggling to fit into, with his wife Isobel who the real Andrew Martin treated awfully and who he should’ve divorced years ago. His son struggling at school and with a famous mathematician father. The way that Matt Haig slowly revealed things about the characters, dropped subtle hints about past events and who Andrew Martin really was was just extraordinary.
The prose was decent as well, however if you’re looking for a long poetic book, this isn’t it. Matt Haig focussed more on the ideas than the wording surrounding objects so you don’t get these amazing descriptions but rather a break down of everyday objects from the perspective of an outsider. However, there were a lot of lines that were brilliant (and I’ve included a few here) and still very poetic in a harsh sort of way.
Throughout the book I laughed, cringed and learnt new things with the alien. Where the alien had come from, technology, all people and nature were practically one and the same, and for him to view our poor Earth world through that lens was surreal. He had to come to terms with the reason of life when death was inevitable, why people make themselves so miserable and complain about not having enough time when they have their entire lives, what love is, what value there is in humanity.
“Two mirrors, opposite and facing each other at perfectly parallel angles, viewing themselves through the other, the view as deep as infinity. Yes, that was what love was for.”
This book really was an eye-opener, even for things I didn’t completely understand. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I loved this book. I’d recommend it to people who like John Green’s ideas and scifi novels. In general though, I recommend it to anyone and everyone (except maybe younger kids, as there were a couple of mature scenes), anyone who has ever questioned humanity, and everyone who hasn’t.
– Mai 🙂