The Humans – Matt Haig

The Humans – Matt Haig

‘To be human is to state the obvious. Repeatedly, over and over, until the end of time.’

An alien life-form has taken over the body of a professor of mathematics. Why? He’s discovered the secret of prime numbers, and therefore the mysteries of the universe. And the Vonnadorian race cannot have such power in the savage, illogical race that is humanity. The solution? Deploy one of their own to body-snatch, assassinate, and anything else it take to ensure that humans remain ever-ignorant of this life-changing discovery.

If nothing else, this book was certainly full of surprises. It faced down all the preconceptions I had as I read the story and transformed them effortlessly.

I have to be honest, when the protagonist woke up in the middle of the M11 in a human body and absolutely starkers, I began to question what the plot aimed to achieve – was it a comedy? Where was it planning to go? Is this another examination/critique of the small/silly things us humans do that makes us inherently so? I have read this type of book before, and they are all so achingly similar. What is there left for Haig to do differently? I was soon going to find out.

The first part of this book is focused on comedy. An alien adjusting to existence as a human, queer and comical observations of our species (‘The ‘pub’ was an invention of humans living in England, designed as compensation for the fact that they were humans living in England’), and speech and behaviour confusions as he tries to blend in like nothing out of the ordinary has happened. These themes become more pensive and profound as the narration continues, and the tone begins to change (‘Laughter, I realised, was the reverberating sound of a truth hitting a lie’). This acts as a smooth bridge to the second part of the novel: our Vonnadorian embracing the quirks around him and falling in love with the very concept of humanity.

This part is what really brings the story into its own. It is simple, heartfelt and, strangely, not at all twee as our alien realises the beauty of the imperfections and the pathos of being human. What is great about this is that the reader is drawn along into the discovery too. It is a reminder of the fundamental things that make us who we are, and it is both comforting and refreshing.

What I really enjoyed about this book was the list ‘advice for a human’, which was left to his troubled son. It was wonderful. It made me feel guilty for ever having fought against this book. This is ninety-seven points of inspirational things for the reader to ponder, not compromised by any naivety or over-sentimentality. It won me over in a way I would have never expected.

I would recommend ‘The Humans’ to anyone who wanted a fairly light read, with a bit of humour thrown in, and a truly uplifting conclusion.