BY SARAH LAURENCE
Written while in the unmerciful grip of a panic disorder, The Humans illustrates the foibles and irregularities of our race that we take for granted, as seen from an alien’s perspective.
Professor Andrew Martin is found naked on the M1 outside Cambridge, after solving a hitherto impossible mathematical theorem. Unbeknownst to the humans around him, he has been murdered and his body is occupied by another – a Vonnadorian. His home planet is so ‘advanced’ that, through mathematics, passion, pain, weather and mortality have all been eliminated. As a result, his race look down on humans for their short lives, where ‘well-travelled’ means within their own planet and where the mysteries of prime numbers are yet to be solved.
Despite having no knowledge of human culture and code (resulting in hilarious consequences), the new Andrew is immediately more sensitive and caring to his family than the original – finding that he has many bridges to mend. The Vonnadorian master plan of killing Professor Martin’s family and friends comes unstuck as the new professor becomes attuned to the intricacies of human life – the seeming irrational textures of pleasure and pain, of care and corruption, of only having one life to live – and is unable to fulfill his task and leave for home.
As well as being unexpectedly poignant, Haig’s fifth novel is uproariously funny as he pokes holes in accepted practices (such as the News: “the term generally meant ‘news that directly affects humans’…there was nothing about the other nine million species on the planet….there was nothing on new mathematical observations or still undiscovered polygons but quite a bit about politics, which on this planet was essentially all about war and money”). The Vonnadorian’s new grasp on sensation culminates in 97 pieces of advice he leaves for his son, ranging from “Be nice to other people. At the universal level, they are you” to “Sex can damage love but love can’t damage sex” and other pithy antitheses.
Don’t be put off by the intergalactic sphere – the book is a stirring account not of aliens at all but, ultimately, what it means to be human.
The Humans is published by Canongate, R200, and has been selected as one of AERODROME’s WinterReads.