Book Review: The Humans by Matt Haig

IMG_6265This book is ridiculous. And I mean that with great affection – the way a small child might tell you an outrageous story. That kind of ridiculous. Charming and more than a little crazy.

Our narrator (unnamed) is an alien. He’s arrived on Earth to take over the life and body of Andrew Martin, a mathematics professor at Cambridge. Andrew has finally unlocked a formula of almost mythic proportions, which threatens the fabric of the universe. Aliens, ostensibly acting to save humanity from itself, have destroyed Andrew and sent one of their own to ensure all evidence of his discovery is erased. Including the people he may have interacted with.

As Andrew Martin, the alien is appalled with humans. Their faces, their smell, their square buildings, their greed and violence. On his planet there is not death or pain, no fear or emotion of any kind. But as he steps into Andrew’s life, the alien discovers Emily Dickinson. And peanut butter and music. And he begins to notice that Andrew Martin’s wife is not so bad-looking.

The style of the story reminded me a bit of The Rosie Project – a likeable hero who doesn’t quite get the people around him and makes some foolish mistakes but begins to triumph with the power of love. Sure, it sounds cliche and, mostly, both novels are, but they’re enjoyable cliches and appealing to read. The Humans is rather darker than The Rosie Project and although it mostly follows the path you’d expect, it takes a more unexpected and realistic (if a story with an alien narrator can be called realistic) turn toward the end.

It’s a quick, fun read with some funny parts and creatives ideas. My least favourite sections were the really alien-y bits: descriptions of his home planet or his conversations with what he refers to as “the hosts”. This isn’t really a sci-fi story and so much of the alien stuff felt hokey to me. Instead, the novel is at its most charming as an extreme fish-out-of-water story. The tale of a being taking over the life of a deeply flawed man and trying to make his way as a human, while figuring out whether or not to follow his dark mission through to its end.

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