The Humans by Matt Haig
Our hero, Professor Andrew Martin, is dead before the book even begins. As it turns out, though, he wasn’t a very nice man – as the alien imposter who now occupies his body discovers. Sent to Earth to destroy evidence that Andrew had solved a major mathematical problem – and the people who know about it,, the alien soon finds himself learning more about the professor, his family, and “the humans” than he ever expected. When he begins to fall for his own wife and son – who have no idea he’s not the real Andrew – the alien must choose between completing his mission and returning home or finding a new home right here on Earth.
The story is fantastic, interwoven with the impostor Andrew Martin’s voice who is challenged by the simplest, everyday tasks. Everything is a discovery and the journey is gradual. There’s tension, laughs and tragedy. It grips you from page one right to the end.
The narrative voice is sharp and consistent throughout. Everything about the new world is a new and tangible experience. The reader is in on the joke but the Vonnadorian doesn’t understand the culture in which he has been immersed. The gradual development of independent thought and emotion change the narrative voice, making it more intimate and vulnerable.
I love the impostor. Everything that comes out of his mouth his hilarious. Haig makes it difficult to immediately like him. The deceased Andrew’s wife and son, Gulliver, are great and the chemistry that’s created between the impostor and Andrew’s family adds another element to the journey, especially since we get to see his transformative power on the family unit. Vonnadorian humour:
- “He was also quite rotund, as if he didn’t want to watch football but become one.”
- “The lack of geometric imagination was startling. There was not as much as a decagon in sight. Though I didn notice that some of the buildings were larger and – relatively speaking – more ornately designed than others. Temples to the orgasm, I imagined.”
Quality of Writing: 20/20
The writing, though told by an alien, is very human and touching. It’s funny as he comes to terms with the human race and the differences between species; tragic, at times; and ultimately, touching when we realize how much he has come to love the very people that he was tasked with killing:
“’Now,’ she said, ‘I would like to start by asking you something very simple. I’ve been wondering if you’ve been under any pressure recently?’ I was confused. What kind of pressure? Gravitational? Atmospheric? ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘A lot. Everywhere, there is some kind of pressure.’ It seemed like the right answer.”
Haig sets the scene in Cambridge and we get a real sense of where we are through what what we see and hear. It’s not so much this that intrigues me as the other world – Vonnadoria. The comparisons to the other world pique our curiosity and tease it out without ever saying exactly what it is. Haig is able to conjure up an image of the impostor’s world with parameters and a new lexicon without us ever having to visit it in the story:
- “I must say it was kind of a relief – given the dimensions of the room – to realise they knew what a circle was.”
- “The sound was very melancholy somehow, like the bass rumble of a sleepy Bazadean.”
- “’We’ve established that,’ the officer said, who kept his eyebrows low and close, like doona-birds in mating season.”
- “I ate the vegetable stir-fry. It smelt like Bazadean body waste.”
Comparative Literature: 10/10
In a market flooded with vampires other paranormals, it’s nice to see an author tackle aliens thorough a playful lens. The closest comparison I can make is to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, which I’m sure many people will have read. If you enjoyed that, then The Humans is right up your alley. Haig’s writing has carved him a deserving space on the YA shelves.
Overall Score: 100/100
Rate it or Slate it?
Rate it: This book is sharp and witty with a story that will play hockey with your emotions.
Books You May Also Like:
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – if you liked the mix of humor with science fiction