Sunday, April 28, 2024

The Humans: Matt Haig


I enjoyed reading this book so much. It brightened my life, it improved my mood, it helped me to feel more love and acceptance for others. And it almost certainly will be one of my top ten books of 2024.

I am going to use a paragraph from the beginning of the novel to describe this book: 

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. It’s about a forty-one-year-old female historian called Isobel and her fifteen-year-old son called Gulliver and the cleverest mathematician in the world. It is, in short, about how to become a human.

This book is a science fiction story, but for me, it felt like a book about how to live a better life, a sort of self help book. Or possibly a book about a philosophy of life. 

The protagonist of this book is an unnamed alien, a Vonnadorian. He has been sent to earth because an earthling, Andrew Martin, has discovered the solution to the Riemann hypothesis. The Vonnadorians have determined that this discovery will lead to technical development on earth that humans are not ready for and they want it stopped, no matter what it takes. 

The alien takes over Andrew's body. His mission is to kill anyone that knows about Andrew's work and is aware that he had successfully come up with a solution. That includes Andrew's wife and 16-year-old son. 

The only real science fiction elements in this book are that the alien has powers (for example, he is much stronger than normal humans and can heal humans and animals) and he gets communications from his superiors back on his own planet. Otherwise, the focus is on how he learns to fit into human society with no real instructions, so that he can accomplish his goal. He makes a lot of mistakes along the way.

The alien in Andrew's body starts to have misgivings about his mission. Initially he finds humans disgusting, but once he can stomach living with humans and interacting with them, he begins to like some of them. The family has a dog, and the dog knows that this being is no longer really Andrew, but the alien develops an affection for the dog and vice versa. As Andrew, he tries to interact with the teenage son, who despises his father. 

The alien reads a lot (starting with Cosmopolitan, which gives him some strange ideas) to try to learn about humans. The poet he especially likes is Emily Dickenson. He cannot stand human food, but he does like peanut butter sandwiches, and that is mainly what he subsists on. Since I also eat a lot of peanut butter, I considered this a plus.

The story is narrated by the alien and seems to be a book he is writing for Vonnadorians, to explain his actions after he arrived on earth. It is often humorous but sometimes dark.


Publisher:   Simon & Schuster, 2013
Length:       285 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Setting:       Earth, UK
Genre:        Science fiction
Source:       On my TBR since 2020.


Cath said...

Oh, I've got this on my Kindle, I didn't realise it was this good so I must get to it!

Lark said...

I loved this book! It's my favorite of Matt Haig's novels. His interactions with 'his' son and that list he makes...just so good. It's one I would like to own. :D

Kelly said...

I've only read one of his books (The Midnight Library) and I loved it. You've totally won me over with your review, so it's now tagged at my library!

Sam said...

I have this one on my Kindle, too, mainly because I'm a fan of the author, not that I knew exactly what it was all about. It sounds remarkably similar to the plot of Resident Alien, a TV series I recently watched a season of, but I see that it's not the source material for the show. That kind of surprised me. Now I'm looking forward to reading this one.

Margot Kinberg said...

I don't generally read books about aliens, Tracy, but this one sounds so intriguing! It reminds me just a bit of how Valentine must have felt in Stranger in a strange Land. Anyway, the plot sounds interesting, and I can see how there'd be philosophical elements in it.

TracyK said...

Cath, if you already have this on Kindle, it is definitely worth trying. Not every reader has the same reaction to it as I did, of course. The concept worked for me.

TracyK said...

Lark, I have only read one other book by Haig, The Midnight Library, and liked this one better. The Midnight Library was also the kind of read I like, but it wasn't as good as I expected it to be.

TracyK said...

Kelly, I want to read all of Matt Haig's books now. I think I will get something out of all of them and his writing is very good. If you like Midnight Library, I think you would also enjoy The Humans.

TracyK said...

Sam, that is interesting about Resident Alien. We have not watched that yet, but I have been planning to. I was interested partly because I like Alan Tudyk, but I did not realize that the plot resembles that of The Humans. I will have to check again where we can watch it.

TracyK said...

Margot, this is a difficult book to describe because it is science fiction but it is about more than that.

Kathy's Corner said...

Hi Tracy this sounds very good and I definitely need a book to pick up my spirits.
Usually I don't read science fiction but as you say this book isn't that heavy on the sci fi and has an important story to tell about life and I have been meaning to read something by Matt Haig.

TracyK said...

Kathy, I know what you mean about needing something to pick up your spirits. This would be a good choice from Matt Haig's books. I liked Midnight Library but not as much as this one. I could reread both of those books. I also have The Radleys and How to Stop Time on my shelves to read.

thecuecard said...

I like how you describe this one and that it brightened your life. I have not read it but perhaps I should pitch it to my book club? They are looking for a sci-fi novel ... so maybe this could fit the bill? Would it be good for that?

TracyK said...

Susan, that is a good question. This is definitely a science fiction book, with an alien taking over a person's body and his superiors making decisions to change earth's future. And I think it would be great for a book club; people would have lots of different takes on it.

But if your book club is looking for a different science fiction experience, like space travel for example, or colonization of other planets, it doesn't provide that.