Professor Andrew Martin, a Cambridge University mathematician and scholar, is world renowned for his theory on numbers and is a published author. He is also self-obsessed, emotionally unavailable to his wife, Isobel, and his troubled son, Gulliver, and has spent the better part of his adult life seeking to solve the unsolvable hypothesis of late German math prodigy Bernhard Riemann.
Thus, when an alien visitor from the planet Vonnadorian literally takes the place of Andrew, there is not much to notice. Initially not knowing how to act as a human or behave in our society, the “new” Andrew proceeds to remove all the uncomfortable clothing he is wearing and gets picked up by authorities for streaking through the town square. He is placed in a local insane asylum for observation, and the ultimate determination is that he had a brief breakdown as a result of working too hard. In fact, he is working quite hard --- specifically to understand the ways and thinking patterns of human beings. At first, he finds them a repulsive species and is repelled by their look, attire and food preference.
"THE HUMANS is a breathtaking novel that demands a wide audience. To see and experience all that it means to be a human being through the eyes of a seemingly perfect being is eye-opening and endlessly fascinating."
Andrew immerses himself in everything he can get his hands on to read. This explains why his awkward social responses are a combination of reading classic literature, the poetry of Emily Dickinson, and Cosmopolitan magazine. He muses that if you want to appear sane on Earth, you have to be in the right place, wearing the right clothes, saying the right things, and only stepping on the right kind of grass.
The new Andrew finds music to be amusing, with some being annoying and other pieces --- like Debussy’s Clair de Lune --- that instantly remind him of his own universe. Because this version of Andrew is so utterly different, he is gradually found more acceptable to his family. The real Andrew was having an affair with a student and heading towards divorce, while the new Andrew finds Isobel to be fascinating. He also had a broken relationship with Gulliver, who constantly feels the pressure of being the son of a great intellectual. The new Andrew finds ways to connect with the boy in simple ways and ultimately saves his life.
However, it is not all fun and games as Andrew is constantly reminded by his superiors on Vonnadorian about his mission. The fact that the real Andrew was indeed close to solving Riemann’s hypothesis is what prompted them to send the visitor to take his place and glean this knowledge for their own benefit. That includes eliminating anyone in Andrew’s life who may have known he was close to solving it --- his wife, son, and best friend Ari.
THE HUMANS is a breathtaking novel that demands a wide audience. To see and experience all that it means to be a human being through the eyes of a seemingly perfect being is eye-opening and endlessly fascinating. The new Andrew grows to accept what it means to be mortal and human --- and begins desiring to stay permanently in human form. Matt Haig has created a masterpiece of fiction --- filled with science fiction elements as well as passages that depict external and internal beauty --- that should be required reading for all who inhabit this great big ball we call Earth.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on July 26, 2013