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Review: The Humans by Matt Haig

humansThe Humans by Matt Haig is one of those books that gets bracketed in with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and The Rosie Project, all being told from the point of view of an outsider who doesn’t quite “get” society.  In The Curious Incident and The Rosie Project, outsider status is bestowed by Asperger’s.

The Humans, follows an alien who has journeyed to Earth from a far off, mathematically advanced world, who has been sent to Earth on a mission.  His first task is to killing and impersonate Cambridge Professor of Mathematics, Andrew Martin.  But by becoming “Andrew”, our alien (the book is told from the first person, so he has no name) becomes gradually more and more affected by his life on earth among humans, especially now that he he has acquired a sweet wife and a troubled but well intentioned son, causing him to question the emotional detachment he has been brought up with.

I had a similar reaction to this book as I did with the Rosie project – I found the alien/autistic viewpoint a little slow to get into, as it’s necessarily distancing, but I subsequently found the gradual acclimatisation of the protagonist to his new life both amusing and touching.

It’s not a deep or a serious read in either a mathematical or a literary sense, but is very enjoyable in both.  I was very taken by the mathematical jokes and had to read them out to the other two mathematicians in our data crunching office.  And I was going to offer it round, but one of our exam invigilators got there first – we all stick pictures of the cover and the blurb from the book we are reading on our doors, and this has a very appealing cover and blurb.

As well as enjoying the maths, I have to say that I also identify with the idea of being an alien, of not understanding what people desire from life.   Although it makes for a funny read, I also felt for “Andrew” as he went around saying and doing the wrong thing and unintentionally hurting people :-/

Thanks to Eva for the recommendation!

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13 Comments

  1. Yay! I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I am with you that the perspective took some time to get into but like you say, the distancing is kind of the point. At least we both stuck it out and enjoyed it. The math jokes were way over my head and stayed that way I’m afraid!

    • I bought this book very soon after you reviewed it, which was ages ago! I read a few pages, then it sat on the floor of my car as my emergency reading book. I didn’t get into it for ages and ages, and then I got it – I thought I would eventually because you’d said it was good.

  2. The book sounds really interesting Denise, and reminds me of my friend’s husband – who she feels has Aspergers.

    I don’t think we ever really know what makes someone ‘tick’ unless they are part of our very inner circle. I’ve learnt that saying little can be best around those I don’t know very well these days. Otherwise I find myself treading on eggshells worrying that someone might take offence to what I’ve said (and there is always someone that will). It’s sad, but I think trying to understand society as a whole is too much of a minefield!

    • I heard the beginning of this on the radio, it was really interesting to hear someone with Asperger’s talk about their condition with such insight
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04nqv6p
      Challenging a lot of my ideas of what having Asperger’s meant.
      So many times I have offended people by saying too much about social issues etc I don’t know anything about and kicked myself afterwards 😦

      • Sorry to hear that Denise. I think we’ve all put our feet in our mouths at some point though. These days I never discuss politics or social issues with anyone unless i’m 100% certain which side of the fence they stand…

    • I hope the maths lives up to his expectations! Speaking as someone who has forgotten so much that these days I struggle to remember how to explain A-level maths to my daughter.

    • You’re right, I was expecting it to be lighter, having seen the books it was compared with. The alien stuff ventured onto the fringes of proper alien destruction etc.

  3. I have been in a quandary over this book, uncertain whether I’d enjoy it or not. Your review makes me think I should give it a try. I like Matt Haig (from his other writings) and the topic is certainly intriguing. What makes it extra-amusing to me is that one of my colleagues in the French Department at Cambridge is called Andy Martin, heh. I think his students would be more than prepared to consider him a semi-alien being! 🙂

    • It was nice and quick to read, and left me with a warm feeling, and a smile on my face, which I guess makes it worth reading!

  4. Gwen Stephens

    Sounds fascinating. Like you, I also had a hard time getting into the Rosie Project. The voice was a little over-the-top for my taste, so I didn’t end up finishing the book. Maybe I’ll add this one to my Goodreads list.

    • Rosie Project is worth getting into for The Jacket Scene, if you didn’t get that far. That still makes me smile. It’s funny though, the things we learn as writers, about how to capture the reader’s attention, and The Rosie Project doesn’t follow those rules, yet still a big success! The bit where they were chasing around trying to get some bloke’s DNA sample was especially slow/dull/unlikely.

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