Review: The Humans by Matt Haig

The Humans
We all like to share quotes, whether they be inspirational, funny, or say exactly what we mean but in a prettier way. So what does it mean when I want to quote an ENTIRE BOOK? It means I really, really loved it. The Humans is like a breath of fresh air; it’s touching, enthralling, amusing, and tugs at the heartstrings. It’s so fascinating to see humans for what we really are… just like how the alien protagonist learned about humans, we still have just as much to learn about ourselves and the world around us.
 

Title: The Humans
Author: Matt Haig
Publication Date: May 9, 2013
Category: (Adult Fiction) Science Fiction / Contemporary

 

Introduction

I have come to a planet where the most intelligent life form still has to drive its own cars…

An alien from a mathematically-driven utopian society on another planet in another universe is sent to stop Cambridge University math professor Andrew Martin from disseminating his proof of the Riemann Hypothesis. In fear of the incapability of humans to wield this knowledge wisely, the alien takes over Martin’s body and is told to kill all whom knows that Martin has solved the Riemann Hypothesis and destroy all copies of the proof. However, the alien is hindered from his mission by his lack of understanding of the humans at the beginning of his journey, as well as by his growing understanding of the humans throughout the story.

Discussion

So many things in The Humans went right for me. Firstly, the description of the book at the very beginning promised peanut butter.

This book, this actual book, is set right here, on Earth. It is about the meaning of life and nothing at all. It is about what it takes to kill somebody, and save them. It is about love and dead poets and wholenut peanut butter. It’s about matter and antimatter, everything and nothing, hope and hate.

Secondly, the narrator of this story is from the planet Vonnadoria (and therefore is not a human), and he’s able to look at everything on Earth with a fresh perspective. Even though he learned about what Earth is like, the real thing leaves him bewildered. He obviously doesn’t think much of the humans, and is disgusted at the sight of the human face, horrified by rain, confused by the feeling of sadness (which he’s never needed to feel), and thinks that spitting is the human form of greeting one another. But he perseveres because of his mission, and gradually learns the ways of the humans. The alien’s lack of knowledge of the human world makes for some humorous thoughts and unusually beautiful descriptions; for example, when he first got to Earth:

This was night to the power of night to the power of night. This was night cubed. A sky full of uncompromising darkness with no stars and no moon. Where were the suns? Were there even suns? The cold suggested there might not have been.

The alien also interacts a lot with Andrew Martin’s wife and son, and it’s interesting to see how his interactions and thoughts about them change throughout the book. All of Haig’s characters are, in their own way, so distinctly human compared to the alien, and Haig is able to bring them to life and make them just as interesting as the alien.

And Haig’s writing is just TOO GOOD. It has a short-and-sweet feel, and the math-inspired passages just kill me. Here, the alien’s superiors say to him:

A prime number is strong. It does not depend on others. It is pure and complete and never weakens. You must be like a prime.

You see what he did there? SEE? Brilliant.

Another one of my favorite parts of The Humans is the section where the alien lists lessons he’s learned about the humans. I just want to print the entire list and frame it on my wall and read it out loud every single day, it’s that good. I won’t spoil it for you, so I’ll quote just one:

86. To like something is to insult it. Love it or hate it. Be passionate.

Conclusion

I loved The Humans, as you can probably tell. Haig brought math and aliens to Earth on a spectacular adventure, and with his beautifully simplistic style, redefined human relationships and society at large. If you like being able to FEEL something after a book, read The Humans. If you like science fiction, realistic fiction, stories about people, math, romance, dogs, music, peanut butter… The Humans has it all.

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9 thoughts on “Review: The Humans by Matt Haig

  1. Ack, math is not exactly something that I am in love with. But beautiful writing, great characters, and peanut butter? Yeah, I am so in love that that. The Humans sounds like such of a unique experience. Seeing the human race from the point of view of an alien visitor sounds like something that would not only be interesting, but also a little enlightening… Unless I take into account that the author is human. But hey, he might be an alien and we just don’t know it.

    I don’t read Adult fiction, but this book that made you want to quote every single sentence of it will be an exception. In fact, I already have it on hold in the library. Great review, Sophie! Now it’s time for me to go on a tangent: Because I noticed that while the book is narrated by an alien with little knowledge of the human world but written by a human, I am wondering about other works that employ this same sort of narrator.

    While I can’t name a few right off the top of my head, I have and watched a few stories that have narrators that no nothing of the human race and world. Usually these make for stories that are about examining the human nature and all that in an honest and somewhat philosophical manner. But, when I remember the fact that the story was created by a human(s), I have to think about how the human race and world is portrayed. What if us humans are just all fooling ourselves and don’t understand anything at all O_O

    ^Please don’t take that last paragraph seriously. It’s a ramble made by a brain hyped up on Pepsi. But if I make sense and you would like to discuss, feel free to 😛

    • (Uhh I don’t think I hit the Reply button properly so here it is again.) Ahaha, oh you and math… I can’t wait to hear your thoughts after you read it! And I totally welcome Pepsi-driven thoughts, lol. 😉

      Your last paragraph probably also applies (albeit less so) to books narrated by animals. I think with any non-human protagonist, the author is trying to make us more aware of our own actions as individuals and as a society. What the non-human protagonist sees is really the same as what human protagonists see, but it’s their thought process that makes the story unique. We listen to music, but why do we listen to music? We put on clothes, but why do we put on clothes? So I wouldn’t say that we don’t understand anything at all, but rather, we don’t understand why we do the things we do. That’s what science is for, right?

      • I remember when I was a little kid, I was quite addicted to books narrated by dogs. Because I thought that they were amazingly adorable and that if I read enough, I might be able to sort of read my dog’s mind. (This totally worked, by the way.)

        Now that I said that random tidbit, I think you are absolutely right when you say that while we don’t understand nothing, there are many things that we don’t. For example, we look for companions to keep feelings of loneliness away and to share life with (at least, that’s why I do it. See, it’s already becoming complicated.), but the answer to why we want to share life with someone and why we have feelings of loneliness with someone is not something that can easily be answered… Unless we just think that it’s because we want our species to survive and leave it at that, which I don’t think that we can exactly do since humans are extremely complex– science definitely does help explain things, but doesn’t explain everything.

        And since that I have thought about it, I guess that is why stories told with a non-human point of view are so interesting. Yes, those thoughts are still essentially “human” thoughts, but the author had to sort of bend his thought process and really think about the little things that we do that could make no sense at all to creatures other than us. I mean, I do think that aliens might be rolling their eyes at us making wearing clothes in public no matter what required. (I like wearing clothes, though, so I’m not complaining.)

        Hopefully I was able to say all this articulately. Oh oh oh! And The Humans is available at my library right now. Be prepared for some tweets about the book tomorrow after I check it out and start reading 😉

        • Woah, you were like the Dog Whisperer??!! Cool! 😛

          And I really like the questions that you brought up. Humans are constantly asking, “Why?” as though there should be a reason for everything. But should there? Is survival the major influential factor for who and what we are? (Evolution says yes, but still a nice thought experiment.)

          I like wearing clothes too, haha. (But then why are some people exhibitionists? More questions!) You articulated your thoughts very well, and it’s nice to think about book ideas in a broader sense. OH YAY can’t wait to hear your thoughts about it! 😀

  2. Love your review! And I loved reading the book. I have to agree with you about quoting the whole book. I had so many notes written down and I try to read one of those advices once in a while. I enjoyed reading this very much. I agree that the alien was distinctly human and I loved the parts where he grew to understand human nature better.

    • Yeah, my notes for The Humans were almost impossible to sift through! Glad we both enjoyed the book… I want to read Haig’s other works too, so hopefully they’re as good as this one!

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