'The Humans' - Book Review

The Humans
by Matt Haig
HarperCollins, 294p.

Among the several blurbs on the back cover of the book is one that says "Tremendous; a kind of Curious Incident meets The Man Who Fell to Earth." If that's all you know about the book before you go read it, that's enough (if you know the references) - and a better review than I'm about to write. But still, I'll add my praise.

The book is about an unnamed alien who comes involuntarily to the barbaric backwater planet Earth to ensure that the humans' mathematics doesn't advance further and thus allow them to bring their barbarisms with them into the universe. Our main character has replaced Andrew Martin, a Cambridge University lecturer who's just had a breakthrough about prime numbers. But killing Martin wasn't enough: it was necessary to find out if anyone else knew about the breakthrough and kill them too - so as an accurate facsimile of Andrew Martin, he'll be able to talk to Martin's friends and family to find out who might know.

But there's a problem: our alien protagonist knows nothing about being human. He arrives butt-naked and doesn't understand why people are pointing and laughing - or even what "laughter" is. Haig uses this lack of understanding as a launching point to examine the entire human experience to hilarious and poignant effect. A fantastic book.

SPOILER ALERT: don't read this if you haven't read the book, etc. About 2/3rds of the way through the book when our protagonist loses his "gifts," I suddenly realized that Andrew Martin could just be a messed up human with major delusions. I also realized that a lot of people probably spotted this possibility almost from the beginning of the book. It was a brilliant added layer on top of everything else you have to consider about how the new Andrew sees the world.