Review – The Humans by Matt Haig

By | August 5, 2013

In any list of my favourite-books-ever, there will always be a place for Matt Haig’s The Last Family In England. I loved that book, talked about it until people glazed over, lent out my copy (and bought a second so no-one lost out), bought copies for friends, quoted from it, and never looked at a Labrador in quite the same way ever again. It takes a very special writer to inspire that sort of devotion, and Matt Haig produced a few more excellent books to follow it up. I’ve just realised I have one of his books, The DeadFathers’ Club, still sitting on my shelves unread – what can I be thinking of?!  But great reading and wonderful originality have followed – The Possession of Mr Cave, The Radleys and the magical To Be A Cat (that worked the same magic for the cat fraternity – and for being yourself – as the my former favourite). But as for The Humans… I can just see myself boring for England again – I have a new favourite. 

There have been so many reviews by now that I hardly need to tell “the story”. Professor Andrew Martin has cracked the Reimann Hypothesis which will change the future of the human race.  His discovery attracts the attention of an alien planet, their utopian existence threatened by the discovery, and they send an alien in human form to destroy anyone who knows the secret. But to do so, the alien picks up Andrew’s life, finding out what it is to be human, and questions the mission he’s been sent to complete.

Don’t be put off at all by the story. As Matt Haig says on his website: 

I don’t want to tell you it is a book that features an alien in it, because you might not like books with aliens in it, and I don’t really. It is a love story and a murder story and a what-are-we-here-for? story. It is about humans. That is why I came up with the title. The Humans. 

This is such a cleverly written book, full of the most wonderful observations and comments about what it is to be human.  It’s heart-warmingly beautiful, full of hope, love and redemption: it’s very sad, but also irreverent and extremely funny. There are some fantastic moments – learning the language by reading Cosmopolitan, his experience in the mental hospital, his interactions with his wife and son, his relationship with the elderly family dog. There’s something quite fascinating about someone standing just outside the human race commenting on its strangeness and foibles.

There is a book trailer on Matt’s website, some of the key observations and advice for humans, as read by readers – it’s excellent, and really gives a flavour of the book.

I have my favourite lines:

On art and madness
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.

On religion
Catholicism, I discovered, was a type of Christianity for humans who like gold leaf, Latin and guilt.
But too many quotes do the book a disservice, it’s not a book of one-liners – although every reader will find their own favourites, the universal truths, the astute observations that will bring a smile to your face. I never re-read books, there are too many waiting – but this is one that I’ll return to again and again.  It’s wonderful – please read it.

My thanks to netgalley and Canongate Books for the advance reading e-copy.