Matt Haig’s The Humans has a ludicrous premise and a close to laughable plot. But it is one of the most uplifting and beautiful books I have read recently. Perhaps it was because I was trapped at my daughter’s dancing competition which ran three hours overtime on a rainy Saturday night. There was nothing else to do but keep reading, listen to the rain on the auditorium roof and glance up from time to time at the preceding contestants. The room gradually emptied out, but there were still whole sections to go before my daughter’s trio was to dance. I read on!
I don’t think it gives too much away to say the plot revolves around an alien’s attempt to understand humans. At first he sees the obvious: cruelty, small mindedness, greed, mortality, self deception. But then he is sidelined by beauty, by courage and by love. How hard it is to write meaningfully about love. I think Haig manages it.
This is a difficult book to define, not really Science Fiction despite the plot. It does, of course, have resonances of the movie Starman. It also reminds me of a short story that I can’t quite place (although it feels to me like Ray Bradbury) of a woman living on another planet whose husband is replaced by an alien who looks just like him. She comes to realise this, but also to prefer the alien. And, almost inevitably, Haig’s alien becomes more human than other.
Haig has written that the seeds of the book came from a time when he was suffering from a panic disorder. He wanted to write about human life as he then experienced it, as if he were an outsider observing the strangeness. It is so often true that the overt expressions of human nature are the most ugly and violent. Right now the world is clearly demonstrating how strange and disconnected humans can be. But it is also true that softer, less noticeable expressions of care and connection and beauty happen all the time. We each of us contain something of the worst and the best. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to find a way to bring those demonstrations of love to the fore. I wonder if we humans can manage it.