Friday, 26 April 2013
It's hardest to belong when you're closest to home...One wet Friday evening, Professor Andrew Martin of Cambridge University solves the world's greatest mathematical riddle. Then he disappears. When he is found walking naked along the motorway, Professor Martin seems different. Besides the lack of clothes, he now finds normal life pointless. His loving wife and teenage son seem repulsive to him. In fact, he hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton. And he's a dog. Can a bit of Debussy and Emily Dickinson keep him from murder? Can the species which invented cheap white wine and peanut butter sandwiches be all that bad? And what is the warm feeling he gets when he looks into his wife's eyes?
So when I heard about the upcoming release of The Humans, you can imagine that I got very excited. I had hoped I would enjoy it as much as I had The Radleys, but I didn't.
I enjoyed it more.
My first impression of the book was that it reminded me a little of the beginning to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by the late and great Douglas Adams (one of my all-time favourites, by the way), but only in certain ways. For example, the quirkiness of the book came through straight away, as did the humour and wit that is consistent throughout the entire book, and this is very reminiscent of The Hitchhiker's Guide. There's also the little matter of the narrator being an alien, a detail that I loved and had absolutely not expected from reading the synopsis. Like with the Hitchhiker's Guide, the alien is writing a book, but about the human species and their experience of it.
The alien, who takes the place of Professor Andrew Martin, a mathematician at Cambridge University, is supposedly writing this book for his own kind to read, so that he may change their false beliefs about, and prejudices against humanity, and give them a much better understanding of humans in general. So a lot of what is written are things that this alien race would understand - things about their world and way of life, that we, as simple humans, don't understand. This is both very quirk and funny, and very effective at giving the book a better sense of reality (which is very important, considering the entire concept for the book is so wacky!). I really started to believe that this man, who looked like Andrew Martin, but wasn't, was an alien. And weirder still, I liked him.
Very importantly, I should mention that although The Humans did call The Hitchhiker's Guide to mind, it was still very much an independent and highly unique book, and one that definitely stands out from the crowd, all on its own.
The beauty of this book is all in the detail put into the descriptions of our alien protagonist's perception of the world around him, the people around him, and also (perhaps more importantly), the descriptions of his changing feelings as he discovers what it really means to be human.
To begin with, the alien's descriptions are very funny. He's repulsed by the human form - particularly the protruding nose, but not so much the male genitalia - and can't understand how anyone, even the humans themselves, could fall in love with such an ugly, primitive, at best mid-intelligence species. His understanding of the world is also very limited at first; he gets into a spot of bother for not seeing the point of wearing clothes in public, and believing that spitting at someone is the highest show of politeness possible. He also learns the language by reading Cosmopolitan in a petrol station (which is, incidentally, where he gets his ideas about human relationships, which leads to some further sticky situations later on). But this is all when he doesn't understand humanity, and is simply there to do the job he has been charged with, which is to wipe all evidence of a certain mathematical problem having been solved by the real Andrew Martin.
However, when he starts getting to know Andrew's wife and son, Isobel and Gulliver, he finds that he no longer finds humanity quite as repulsive; he no longer rejects Isobel's touch, but actively seeks it, and finds that Gulliver is someone he might just care about. This comes as a shock even to him, and it leaves him in a spot of bother with his own species, a problem he has to figure out very quickly.
I loved watching his perspective on humanity change with each new experience, as he's moved by poetry, music, and a particularly friendly dog, Newton. It was a very gradual, but heart-warming transformation.
I am absolutely head-over-heels in love with this novel. It's a deeply intelligent novel, which has clearly been given a great deal of thought and care for it delve so completely into what it means to be human, and to then articulate that meaning in such a beautiful and poignant way. The ending, in particular, is especially inspirational, and I could take many quotes from one of the final chapters, 'Advice For a Human' (for example: 'A paradox. The things you don't need to live - books, art, cinema, wine and so on - are the things you need to live.' and 'No one will understand you. It is not, ultimately, that important. What is important is that you understand you.').
My praise for this book is never-ending - I genuinely haven't loved a book as much as I love this one, in a very long time - and I'm sure that it will stay with me for a very long time to come.
This is a book that I think everyone - regardless of your preferred genres - should pick up and read. It will have you laughing, give you goosebumps, make you gasp, bring a tear to your eye, and warm you from the inside out.
This is, in my opinion, a perfect masterpiece.
Posted by Dani C at 00:00