Short Review: “The Humans” by Matt Haig (Canongate)

Haig-TheHumansAn excellent examination of what it means to be human

It’s hardest to belong when you’re closest to home… One wet Friday evening, Professor Andrew Martin of Cambridge University solves the world’s greatest mathematical riddle. Then he disappears. When he is found walking naked along the motorway, Professor Martin seems different. Besides the lack of clothes, he now finds normal life pointless. His loving wife and teenage son seem repulsive to him. In fact, he hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton. And he’s a dog. Can a bit of Debussy and Emily Dickinson keep him from murder? Can the species which invented cheap white wine and peanut butter sandwiches be all that bad? And what is the warm feeling he gets when he looks into his wife’s eyes?

The standfirst says it all, really: The Humans is an excellent examination of what it means to be human – everything from the horror and ugliness, to the beauty and wonder of life on Earth. It is a novel that is filled with insight, depth, affection, and humour. From the beginning, we are introduced to an imposter on earth – an alien who has taken the place of one of Cambridge University’s most respected mathematicians, who has just solved one of the great mysteries of mathematics. The race from which this being hails believes the solution will bring great upheaval to the universe: it could, after all, allow humans to leave Earth, and venture out into the universe. This would, of course, bring all their baggage with them. After all, from the outside, human can come across as miserable, money-obsessed, violent assholes.

As the new Andrew Martin navigates his new life, quashing all knowledge of the real Martin’s discovery, he finds himself confronted with everything that is good about life as a human. His obliviousness to what the real Andrew did before he was replaced, gives him a childlike innocence and fresh slate – something that has a real impact on his family life, in both positive and negative ways. He starts to go native, despite the frequent warnings of his superiors – the Hosts.

It doesn’t take long to read The Humans – the novel is very focused, the pacing is brisk, and Haig’s prose is pretty sparse. It is also superb – elegant in its focus, nuanced, affectionate yet not uncritical, and often very funny. His characters are well-rounded and expertly brought to life on the page. The book will also make you want to read more Emily Dickinson…

Haig is fast becoming one of my favourite writers, and I’ve only read two of his novels. The Humans is a must read. I thoroughly enjoyed this, and can’t recommend it enough.

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