Andrew Martin is a distinguished mathematics professor at Cambridge University who has just discovered the solution to the Riemann hypothesis, thereby solving the secret of prime numbers and unlocking the secrets of the universe. That is, at least, until he is assassinated by an alien race and his body is taken over by a Vonnedorian agent intent on wiping out all traces of his mathematical discovery so that the puny human race will never hold the secret of the primes.
So begins The Humans, Matt Haig’s wry and satirical examination of the human race. Andrew Martin (more specifically, the alien who now inhabits his body) has woken up on planet earth. He is naked and he is in the middle of a motorway somewhere on the outskirts of Cambridge. When drivers in passing cars hurl abuse and spit on him, Andrew assumes this is the traditional form of human greeting and proceeds to curse and spit at every person he subsequently meets. It’s perhaps no surprise that he shortly finds himself on a mental health ward. Our nameless Vonnedorian is no doubt having trouble adjusting to human society, but luckily for him, Andrew Martin was the kind of professor who could conceivably have had a mental breakdown, and that is declared to his wife when she picks him up.
Andrew spends the first half of The Humans being repulsed and confused by humans and their behaviour. After picking up a Cosmopolitan at a petrol station, he comes to believe that the orgasm is the mecca of all human knowledge and desire, and that the evening news should in fact be called The War and Money Show. Whilst he initially abhors his pet dog, they quickly form a bond and Andrew often muses upon the oddities of human behaviour with his pooch. Then there is the discovery of peanut butter, which he realises is probably the greatest gift known to man.
But, whilst he’s been sent to earth to assassinate Andrew Martin’s family and anyone who might know about the solution to the Riemann hypothesis, Andrew (the alien) finds himself growing attached to his new wife and son. It turns out the real Andrew Martin was not a very good husband or father, and actually, the alien Andrew seems to be doing a much better job. He connects with his wife, Isobel, more than her real husband ever did. He manages to convince his son not to commit suicide, and to stand up to the bullies that have made his life a living hell. In short, Andrew is becoming human.
Haig wrote in his acknowledgments that the idea for The Humans initially came to him whilst he was in the grips of a panic disorder. Andrew Martin’s struggle to understand the human race mirrors Haig’s own attempt to reconnect with the society he felt so removed from. In this light, the story is even more moving and poignant, as Andrew discovers Emily Dickinson, Holst, and the beauty in our mortality. The book is a warm and often hilarious reflection on our pitfalls and our paradoxes, and far from lamenting them, Haig actually celebrates our flaws. If you want some light shed on the wonders of our seemingly banal lives, or just to laugh at a naked man lost on a motorway, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
Well, the premise certainly drew me in! Thanks for such a well-written and lively review.
This certainly sounds interesting, and I love viewing humanity from a different lens. I’ll keep an eye out for this one!
it sounded like it might have been cute but too broad/obvious for me at the start, but I got interested when you told me it turned into something more than just poking fun.