When we last discussed our book club pick and I heard a general description, I admit my immediate reaction was “no.”
An alien sent to Earth to inhabit a math teacher’s body?? I am out. Aliens and math – two things that are not my cup of tea.
But I kept my mouth shut because sometimes I don’t know everything. Only sometimes. This was one of those times.
The Humans by Matt Haig is fantastic and I’m so glad I read it.
The book is set up as a kind of instruction manual for other aliens that may be sent to Earth to help them understand humans and all their eccentricities. The unnamed narrator does take over the life and body of a math professor but it’s not nearly as sci-fi nerdy as I thought it would be. Right before Martin was taken up to the aliens, he had solved one of the oldest math problems in existence. It would revolutionize mathematics and the universe. Fearful that humans will find out about their existence, they send one of their own down to destroy all evidence of the solution. This includes killing the professor’s wife and son.
The problem is the alien starts to like being human. He discovers the beauty of music, that peanut butter is perfect food and that he loves dogs. He finds himself falling in love with the professor’s wife, a complicated process not least because he found human forms disgusting to look at but also because before his arrival, the professor and his wife barely spoke.
His mission is completely compromised as he falls in love, as he becomes human.
That’s what’s at the heart of this lovely book: love. The alien is kind of obsessed with what the point of humans’ lives is and eventually he discovers it’s love.
If you loved The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time or The Rosie Project you are going to love this. It has the same detached narrator, standing on the outside of society looking in and trying to make sense of facial cues and emotions and most of all this horrible habit humans have of not telling the truth or saying what they actually mean. In the Afterword, the author explains that he started writing this novel when he was in the middle of dealing with a panic disorder, when he really felt like the narrator and the world didn’t make any sense.
I’d say Haig did an amazing job of making sense of us. Read this book soon, it will make you smile.