A review by Rebecca Muir
The Humans is a quirky, challenging and yet heart-warming story about what it means to be human, told from the point of view of an alien being from the planet Vonnadoria. The Vonnadorians are an advanced race who have discovered how to eliminate death and pain. For a Vonnadorian, mathematics is the essence of life.
This alien has been sent in the form of a human – one particular human, a mathematician called Professor Andrew Martin. The professor has made a breakthrough, solving a mathematical problem previously thought impossible to solve. However, the Vonnadorians have deemed that the human race is not ready for the knowledge this will unlock, so they have sent this being (the Vonnadorians do not have personal names) to replace the professor and eliminate anyone who might know about his breakthrough.
However, it is a huge culture shock for the alien as he seeks to come to grasp with the nuances of what it means to be human. The professor had a wife, Isobel, and a teenage son, Gulliver. The alien must establish himself in their lives and convince them that he is the professor in order to find out who knows about the discovery.
As he gets to know them and settle into his new identity, the alien (with the help of Emily Dickinson) discovers what it means to be human and finds that things are not as black and white as they look from Vonnadoria.
The Humans has some very funny scenes as well as some interesting insights into what it means to be human. The philosophical standpoint of the book is very materialistic – the alien looks down on humans for thinking there might be some meaning to their lives. I don’t agree with this philosophy but I found the book an interesting exploration of it and how you might be able to find meaning in the face of meaninglessness.
The Humans made me laugh and made me think. It is very different to anything I’ve read lately. Matt Haig manages to elicit a lot of emotion using a lot of short, direct sentences. There are some confronting scenes in the book. It is definitely not a light-hearted read. It is well written, though, and I recommend it to anyone who likes books that make them think.