The Humans by Matt Haig

humansI’m afraid this was a book I wanted to love but didn’t. Like A.J. Fikry, it comes highly recommended from bloggers I respect. It fell flat for me.

My first big problem with this book: major story flaw. This is a book about a highly advanced alien race that comes to Earth to stop humans from advancing mathematically. Humans are corrupt so they must be prevented from reaching space and destroying whatever they touch. I don’t have a problem with that idea. The problem is that this advanced race drops one of their own into the body of a human scientist,without having the foggiest idea of how humans live. Our narrator doesn’t know the language, the culture, what clothes are or what humans eat. Yet he knows the exact moment that this particular scientist discovers the meaning of prime numbers?

It’s simply a plot device that allows our narrator to poke fun at how humans live and all the stupid things they do (like, if clothes are simply meant to cover our skin, why do we have so many different types? Or, why do we call a live animal a cow but call the same thing beef when we eat it?) But there’s no rhyme or reason to what he knows and doesn’t know.

I’m generally pretty good with suspension of belief but this book felt contrived to me, since nothing about the plot makes sense.

My second problem with the book: I don’t want a book to give me a list of the ways I should live. In a graduation speech, that’s a great thing. Vonnegut’s done that already and I appreciate it. But in a novel, I want the author to make me THINK about how to improve my life.

A good example: I just finished Americanah, and that book really made me think about how I approach issues of race and how I talk about them. This book, on the other hand, has a “be happy, love each other” message that is just way too simplistic for me. Is it right? Sure. Do I need a novel to tell me what a Hallmark card can? No.

The main character talks more like someone with Asperger’s than a hyper-intelligent alien being. There’s little consistency in the plot and I found the writing distracting. Honestly, this book reminded me of the grade school creative writing assignments you’d get where you have to write from the perspective of the witch or the monster in the fairy tale.

I wanted to be kinder in this review, since I know many people love this book. But sometimes a review gets away from me, as this one did.

As with A.J. Fikry, I’m clearly not cut out for books that people describe as “heart-warming”. From now on I’ll pass.

  6 comments for “The Humans by Matt Haig

  1. January 23, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    There are a lot of reasons I don’t want to read this book. My ability to suspend disbelief is one of them. On the other hand, like you I’ve heard good things. And Haig is really funny on twitter. But you’ve reinforced what my gut has been telling me. I’m going to give this a pass. Thanks for your honesty.

  2. January 23, 2015 at 5:55 pm

    I really liked this (although I can’t say it is a great literary novel). You’re probably right about it being unbelievable (even as sci-fi) but I found it fun and amusing.

    It’s more of a ‘rest’ novel for me. Something to read between more heavy novels (which actually I have found myself needing more and more recently)

  3. January 24, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    I haven’t tried this one, but I bailed on Haig’s other book, The Radleys. He may not be for me.

  4. January 28, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    That’s a really interesting distinction you make! And I agree, I like books which make me think, but I don’t like ones which tell me how to think.

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