Col Robinson's review: The Humans by Matt Haig

Published 1st November 2021

Col's Book Rating - 5/5

Author Matt Haig has suffered agonising depths of depression and mental illness in his life. At the tender age of 24 he stood on a cliff top contemplating suicide.

The idea for ‘The Humans’ came to him 21 years ago in the midst of a panic disorder, when human life felt as strange to him as it does for the main character in the book, an alien being from a distant galaxy disguised as an earthling.

Yet despite the germ of the book springing from such desperate sadness ‘The Humans’ is science fiction meets hilarious intelligent comedy. Then the author throws in a large extra dollop of comedy for good measure.

Superficially there is the plot – lack of space here prevents me from going into detail but it unfolds, effortlessly gripping and at pace. But the real joy, the real meat in the sandwich in these pages, is found in the alien’s view of humans and the way we live our lives. He, like all of us at times, struggles to make sense of it all. The book is littered with delicious thought provoking salvos that prick pomposity and hold up a mirror to us; he notices “Civilisation on Earth is made possible by millions of people suppressing their instincts.” He lists ‘Things We Do To Make Ourselves Happy That Actually Make Us Miserable’ – “shopping, watching TV, taking a better job, getting a bigger house …making our skin look mildly less old and harbouring a vague desire to believe there might be a meaning to it all.”

He is taken to see a lower league football match - “To watch a team’s feet consistently avoid the spherical Earth-symbol seemed to frustrate their supporters greatly, but they obviously wouldn’t have it any other way.” I dare not suggest this might strike a chord with Forest and County fans out there…

He discovers he can communicate with Newton, the family dog. When trying to find Earth food suited to his alien palate Newton becomes his official taster; there’s a lovely scene where the two bond over a mutually discovered love of peanut butter sandwiches…

Few sci-fi writers have their protagonist from a distant galaxy coming to terms with mundane things such as football and sandwiches but Haig pulls it off without a hitch. There’s none of that tired “Take me to your leader” nonsense here!

This joyous page turner carries this message: yes, horrible unavoidable things happen. But wonderful, beautiful things happen too; you can’t enjoy the light without knowing the dark. Hope and love are marvellous human traits we have in spades, so hang on in there, enjoy the ride. Be nice to other people. Don’t be afraid of telling someone you love them.

Item 14 on his list of ‘Advice For A Human’ is “Your life will have 25,000 days in it. Make sure you remember some of them.” You’ll remember for a very long time the day or two you spent reading this masterly and very funny novel.

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