In 2013, this brilliant author named Matt Haig released a book that I didn’t realize would change my life four years later. I know, right? ‘Change my life.’ How cliché. But, in fact, it really did – I mean it.
Before I go into my encouraging excerpt of words designed to persuade you into reading this novel, let me ask you this: What does being ‘human’ mean to you? Is it the fact that we are sentient beings? That we love and laugh and lie? Or is it perhaps an abstract idea that you have no idea how to explain? Maybe you don’t quite know, and so you just…are. I am. I just am.
To put the rest of you in context, here is what the book is about: An alien is sent to Earth via alien ways so that he may halt human progress. This particular nameless alien is sent to become Professor Andrew Martin of Cambridge University, who has just proved the Riemann hypothesis. The aforementioned hypothesis was a mathematical idea that would launch humans into a future that they are apparently not mentally prepared for. So, naturally, the aliens send one of their own to inhabit a human body in order to destroy everyone and everything that pertained to this proof.
Basically, the aliens don’t want us to progress so they send an assassin.
However, just their luck, they send an alien who, of course, learns the meaning of being human. He quickly understands that humans have millions of languages – facial expressions, words, music, norms, etc. – and he must adapt to each and every one of them to complete his task. The most difficult part was, expectedly, the fact that Professor Andrew Martin – the guy they got rid of so they could occupy his body – has a wife and son. Alien – I’m going to call him (or some other pronoun) Alien because the name is a spoiler – has to master the art of English, social expectations, and Martin’s past, all the while accidentally injecting a lot of humour into his inner monologue.
I need you to understand something before you continue reading. I need you to understand that this isn’t a tale of discovery. It isn’t a mockery of everything human (although it is). It’s a story that will reveal all the time you’ve wasted. It’s a story that will leave you thinking. For me, at least, it’s a story that made me realize I am so incredibly lucky. We are so incredibly lucky to be able to experience love and pain, joy and sorrow, laughter and peace. So, so lucky.
If you haven’t realized that yet, then think about this: What would it be like if we had no feelings? If life was black and white, only objective facts and mathematical equations?
That question is answered within this novel. Actually, this book answers just about every question you’ve secretly asked in your head, and every question you hadn’t realized you’d asked.
The Humans is about an alien, yet sometimes while reading, it was the alien that I could connect with the most. The narrative is so wonderfully engaging, so hilariously funny, that I couldn’t help but feel what they were feeling. From beginning to end, the plot develops smoothly and seamlessly, effortlessly leading on to the next point without prompt.
Another literary term I’m going to mention is style. Nowadays, you pick up a book and there are chapter headings or chapter numbers, or perhaps even the occasional date to signify a diary entry. At the very least, you get a line break to indicate the start of something new. And while this novel has chapter headings, it’s one of those headings that isn’t just ‘Chapter One’ or ‘[insert name of person who is speaking here]’. No, this novel is one of those few books that has somewhat of a statement as the beginning.
For example, the first chapter’s heading is ‘Preface (An illogical hope in the face of overwhelming adversity)’. The second one is ‘The man I was not’.
Yeah. I fell in love with the book at the first glance of something so fabulously different. That and the cover is simply gorgeous. (Yes, I judge a book by its cover.)
To summarize: The Humans is a beautifully written and witty novel. It’s a tale of discovering just what love is and what to do about it, a tale of realizing the most important things in life. It’s about science and progress and human nature and love and fear and pain and death. It’s everything there is to know about literature and yourself.
I cannot begin to describe what this book means to me now, the lessons and jokes and truths it has taught me. Matt Haig delved deep into how we think and why we think and what we think, and ultimately, how that’s what really makes the world go ‘round.
“There is only one genre in fiction, the genre is called ‘book’.” – Matt Haig