This novel opens with a murder. Cambridge mathematician Professor Andrew Martin is killed, and his body taken over by an alien being, sent to destroy the professor and his family in order to prevent humans from getting too good at maths. The big question driving the novel is to do with the identity of the narrator: is he really an alien? Or is he in fact Professor Andrew Martin, in the midst of a mental breakdown in which his perceived intellectual superiority has metafictively manifested in the delusion that he is not of this world?
Clearly designed as a reflection on the nature of human existence, this novel veered dangerously towards the glib for me; perhaps it’s my British stiff-upper-lip talking, but there’s a certain level of sincerity I find difficult to stomach. Many of the characters also felt quite depth-less, but they are being narrated by a character who views them as alien, so perhaps that is to be expected. What saves this novel, in my eyes, is the jokes. The jokes are good. In fact, what I really enjoyed about The Humans was its distinct, intelligent playfulness – if you read closely, you’ll see that it’s rather self-reflective, particularly on the subject of its indefinable genre, and on the potential unreliability of its narrator. These moments struck me as more sophisticated than the overall ‘message’ about the inherent goodness of mankind. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to fans Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, and perhaps to those of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy. I’m certainly keen to check out more of Haig’s work.