The Humans by Matt Haig, published in May 2013, is an amusing comment on the human condition from the perspective of an alien sent to stop the spread of a mathematical discovery by Professor Andrew Martin. If at times a little contrived, it is worth a read for its comic plot-line.
“The audience is supposedly his fellow aliens, and by proxy his past-self, as he attempts to convince them of the positives of humanity.”
The book is narrated from the perspective of this alien from Vonnadoria, who, despite his hyper-intelligence, comically struggles to navigate taking over a human body and impersonating Professor Martin. The audience is supposedly his fellow aliens, and by proxy his past-self, as he attempts to convince them of the positives of humanity.
Haig’s novel is a really easy read and is separated into many, very brief chapters. This, along with its light-hearted content, makes it an ideal holiday or casual read for anyone seeking a few good giggles. It also hooks you in very quickly by jumping straight into its plot, rather than opening with excessive, descriptive scene-setting.
Instead, it opens with the alien-impersonating-Professor-Martin walking naked through his city of residence, Cambridge, confused by both his surroundings and the social niceties of humans having come from a world which knows no emotion. It maps his progress throughout his mission to stop the spread of a supposedly harmful mathematical discovery in both a comic and a touching way as his attachment to human life and the professor’s family deepens and he struggles to decide between his old life and his new.
“It foregrounds emotional connection as the most important thing to existence, as opposed to infinite intelligence or immortality.”
The reader is successfully encouraged to consider the importance of love and emotion to our lives, especially in contrast to the loveless past life of the narrator. It foregrounds emotional connection as the most important thing to existence, as opposed to infinite intelligence or immortality. This is primarily explored through the narrator’s relationship with the Professor’s wife, Isobel, and his son, Gulliver.
“The only pitfall is that the broader comments on humanity and love can seem a little laboured and you have to immerse yourself in the impossibility of the plot-line in order to enjoy the book.”
Haig’s characterisation of sex as ‘a physical and psychological merging that conjured a kind of inner light…overwhelming in its gorgeousness’ is a metaphor of the overall positive message of the book, which paints human life as both complicated and beautiful and restores some of the readers faith in this. The only pitfall is that the broader comments on humanity and love can seem a little laboured and you have to immerse yourself in the impossibility of the plot-line in order to enjoy the book.
The section ‘Advice for a Human’, in which the narrator leaves a message for the professor’s unhappy son, is particularly touching and offers a memorable guide to the positives of humanity which we often fail to remember, such as ‘care more, become more human.’ Here, Haig successfully uses a supposedly objective, even negatively biased, character to demonstrate the need to remember the wonderfully emotional and caring aspects of humanity.
The Humans therefore leaves you with a sense of positivity about being human, without needing an especially serious or even realistic plot-line to achieve it. This balance is testament to the skill of the author and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.
Featured Image courtesy of May Perrin.