A successful mathematics professor on the verge of a hugely significant breakthrough is found wandering naked through Cambridge. His family and friends – even his dog – realise that Andrew Martin isn’t quite himself, but could he really be an alien? If he is, can he learn what it means to be human to save himself – and everyone around him – from the machinations of powers beyond our understanding?
Matt Haig’s book is written in the first person, in a deliberately awkward and detached, analytical style. It’s got an odd, intriguing rhythm thanks to the possibly unreliable narrator who imparts the story alongside his observations of humanity; he paints a picture of life on Earth as an outsider posing as one of us. The style is wonderfully compelling; oddly literal chapter headings and plenty of witty asides about the oddness of human existence.
The Humans is a rare book that feels like it caters for everyone; there’s love and loss, joy and pain, life and death, comedy and tragedy – all of it co-existing comfortably in the musings of Haig’s unnamed main character (unless you count his human name of course – but we never find out his alien moniker). Though the premise sounds as if it’s going to be a science fiction book, even the narrator himself acknowledges in a nicely meta comment that it’s less sci-fi and more magical realism, so non-SF fans shouldn’t be worried about giving it a try. It really is a very funny book at times too, but there’s also a deep melancholy that often rears its head; there’s a wide gamut of emotions running throughout the book, but importantly, it all feels very heartfelt and genuine. Earned.
It’s next to impossible to go into detail without revealing too much; there’s a joy in joining our character on his journey of discovery, one which profoundly changes him. I felt richer for the experience too; Haig’s book is beautifully life-affirming and full of nuggets of universal wisdom and insight. The Humans is an absolute pleasure to read and experience; a reminder of how much meaning there is to everyone’s life, no matter who you are, where you are or what you do.
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