Review of The Humans by Matt Haig

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Anything written by Haig is worth picking up – read my review of The Radleys here, and The Last Family in England here. So when I came across The Humans, it was a no-brainer that I’d scoop it up and take it home…

After an ‘incident’ one wet Friday night where he is found walking naked through the streets of Cambridge, Professor Andrew Martin is not feeling quite himself. Food sickens him. Clothes confuse him. Even his loving wife and teenage son are repulsive to him. He feels lost amongst a crazy alien species and hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton, and he’s a dog. Who is he really? And what could make someone change their mind about the human race…?

This is where Star Man meets 3rd Rock From the Sun – only in book form. And while there are touches of humour, Haig-style, there isthe humans also heartache, too. Professor Andrew Martin isn’t a nice man – and the highly evolved alien revolted about all things human, yet still landed with the job of carrying out a secret and extremely important mission inhabiting his skin has to pick his way through Andrew’s dysfunctional relationships with his family. There are moments of humour – I loved the phone call with his mother and many of the conversations with his angry sixteen-year-old son, Gulliver. Mind you, I’d be fed up if my parents lumbered me with such a name – small wonder he gets bullied at school…

Amongst the general mayhem surrounding the alien’s mission, his constant surprise about human behaviour and the resultant, often humorous misunderstandings, there are some edged, pertinent observations on what exactly being human entails. This being Haig, they never tip into anything too pompous – but do make thought-provoking reading. Although Haig never loses sight of the fact that the primary function of a novel is to tell a story – and keeps the narrative tension pinging all the way through so that I sat down and read this book from cover to cover in one greedy gulp. It is one that I am going to return to, however. Haig manages to pack a great deal into a relatively slim volume by his spare, economical writing style that nevertheless can have me grinning like a loon on one page, and near to tears on the following page… It’s a neat trick to be able to pull off – and one very few writers can regularly achieve.

Any niggles? Well, the spell in America lost the vividness and punch I’ve come to associate with Haig’s prose – and that might well be the point – that he is so devastated, everything has melted into blandness. But it seemed a shame the prose had to follow suit. However, it is a relatively short interval in a remarkable book that pulls off a virtuoso performance rivalling Jeff Bridge’s outstanding performance as Scott Hayden in Star Man. Even if your taste doesn’t generally run to science fiction, give The Humans a go.
10/10

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