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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of The Humans by Matt Haig

The Humans is about mathematics, aliens, and shape shifters, but at its heart it's about a hurting family and an unimaginable, shocking, heartwarming chance at a new beginning. This was fascinating, sometimes funny, thoughtful, and lovely.

In Matt Haig's The Humans, an extraterrestrial arrives on Earth with a mission: to kill the man who has achieved a mathematical discovery considered beyond what is appropriate for humans and for the planet.

Horrified by the appearances of the humans, confused by their disgusting obsessions with wearing clothing and drinking coffee, and pitying of their limited brain capacities and lack of special powers, the visitor nevertheless assumes the appearance of Professor Andrew Martin and clumsily takes on the man's life for a time.

He has been taught for his entire existence about the evil of humans--their violence, their greed and selfishness, their carelessness with their world and with each other, their foolish priorities, and their general unwillingness to consider complex or uncomfortable thoughts.

Let's not forget The Things They Do To Make Themselves Happy That Actually Make Them Miserable. This is an infinite list. It includes: shopping, watching TV, taking the better job, getting the bigger house, writing a semi-autobiographical novel, educating their young, making their skin look mildly less old, and harboring a vague desire to believe there might be a meaning to it all.

At first he is determined to eliminate anyone who had been told about the fateful mathematical advancement that is at the heart of his deadly mission. But he soon grows deeply fond of humans' capacity for forgiveness, for caring, and for hope--despite their finite life years.

Meanwhile, he is having a deeply positive effect on his fake family, who have been in pain for years. The real Andrew Martin was selfish, singularly focused on fame, emotionally closed off, vain, and unfaithful. The alien entity who looks like Andrew Martin is believed to have undergone a concussion, making Andrew seem to behave oddly, sure, but he's also a good listener, he asks charming questions, he heals, he cares, and he is fascinated by everyday wonders. It's impossible not to fall in love with the "new" Andrew.

Humans, as a rule, don't like mad people unless they are good at painting, and only then once they are dead. But the definition of mad, on Earth, seems to be very unclear and inconsistent. What is perfectly sane in one era turns out to be insane in another. The earliest humans walked around naked with no problem. Certain humans, in humid rainforests mainly, still do so. So, we must conclude that madness is sometimes a question of time, and sometimes of postcode.

Through New Andrew's alien eyes we see the contradictory, beautifully messy, infuriating, wondrous aspects of the human condition. There is a looming difficulty the reader sees coming, even if New Andrew doesn't fully grasp it: the inevitable moment when the family will find out about his original mission and his elimination and usurping of the Original Andrew. Haig handles the complexities of this and of all the challenges of the bizarre situation with heart, some wry humor, and with thoughtfulness.

The Humans is funny, strange, deep, and lovely. I loved it.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

I love a book that looks at our many human absurdities through alien or other eyes. The Murderbot series (check out my reviews of three first three books here; the others are searchable on this blog) is another, very different book that also does this wonderfully.

Matt Haig is also the author of How to Stop Time, Reasons to Stay Alive, and The Midnight Library.


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