"A reader lives 1000 lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one."
- George R. R. Martin

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Humans

For Christmas this year, my new boss gave me a wonderful gift - The Humans by Matt Haig. 

I had heard the title bandied about on various lists, but I had no inclination as to its plot or author.  Having read the dust jacket, I was excited to dive in, and I was not disappointed. This lovely story explores what it is to be human, what it is to love and be loved, and how difficult it is to do all those things at once.

The basic premise is that an alien visitor assumes the form of one Professor Andrew Martin, proceeds to experience life through this guise, and comes to certain understandings about the human condition.  But there is nothing basic about this book.

Professor Andrew Martin, the real Professor Andrew Martin, is a mathematics genius who deals mostly with prime numbers.  He has, in fact, discovered a proof for the Reimann Hypothesis, one of the most important unresolved problems in math, the proof of which has endangered not only our planet, but all others as well.  In order to prevent the destruction of the Universe, The Hosts remove the real Professor Martin and place the narrator in his place.  This narrator (who never gives us a name other than Professor Andrew Martin) has no inclination as to what it means to be a human, only that he must destroy all evidence of the proof be it in a computer or in a human.  Coming from a place where everyone is immortal and has infinite knowledge, his experiences as a human are both hilarious and poignant. The story he tells is intended for The Hosts, in order to explain his decisions and actions as the Professor, but serves as a mirror for the reader instead.

Experiencing things that we take for granted every day, such as clothes and food, and how "cow" becomes "beef" once it's cooked, sent me into fits of laughter.  His simple observations about everyday moments and simple conversations actually gave me pause as I experienced them myself.  But it is his dealings with his wife and son that left the biggest impressions.

The real Professor was, apparently, a bit of an ass - which can only be surmised by the reactions of his wife, son, and best friend to the different Professor that the narrator has become.  As our narrator explores his relationships with these people, both as a human and as the alien sent to destroy the information they may or may not hold, the natures of humanity and love are explored and ultimately experienced in ways unexpected by both the narrator and the reader.  Often funny, extremely self-aware, Matt Haig has created a stunning work of beautiful imperfections that will make you laugh, sigh, and may even bring you to tears.

I highly recommend The Humans.  No one that opens this book will be the same person when they close it.