After an ‘incident’ one wet Friday night where Professor Andrew Martin is found walking naked through the streets of Cambridge, he is not feeling quite himself. Food sickens him. Clothes confound him. Even his loving wife and teenage son are repulsive to him. He feels lost amongst a crazy alien species and hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton, and he’s a dog.
Who is he really? And what could make someone change their mind about the human race. . . ?
THIS IS NOT A SPOILER FREE REVIEW.
I REPEAT, THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.
I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about this novel, I really enjoyed some aspects but found it to be tiresome and lacking in other areas. This review will possibly contain spoilers so read with caution!
The Humans started off slowly – it took me a while to get in to the flow of the narrative style and to jump on board with our character. This book is told through the point of view of the ‘alien’ and he is essentially recounting his time on Earth in format of a book to the population of his home planet. Frequently questions are posed towards the reader (in this case the ‘alien’ species). What this does is take us – the actual reader – and places us in a different position: we, to this being, are the alien. And it makes us consider our position on Earth and the things we do that are the normal for us that to someone else from another planet would seem weird. For example: wearing clothes.
While this could be funny seeing him question and come to terms with humanity (such as realising spitting at people isn’t acceptable, going around to everyone and talking about achieving the ultimate orgasm) I eventually began to tire of it. Chapter after chapter begun to feel the same. You could take most of the chapters contents out and you still wouldn’t miss much of the story. I find that to be a problem, I feel like near on every chapter should mean something, not just a filler. I think this is because usually the type of books I read are quite action packed and work towards uncovering mystery or working to defeat a villain, and with this, while there was an objective, it wasn’t the main focus. Often the story just breached out in to discovering and unwinding humanity that I was wondering if we were ever going to get anywhere (i.e him getting in to trouble for not meeting his objective, etc).
This brings me to my main problem:
This book was very philosophical and romanticising in it’s prose. It seemed to try to take on a whimsical element, and sure, considering the origins of the character and the subject matter this seems like it could make sense. HOWEVER, I felt that it got too much, especially in terms of mental health. In the acknowledgements the author mentions his hard time with his mental health and how this book was the product of him working through that. Knowing that, you can see this reflected in the book. We basically have all these different versions of Andrew fighting against himself, we have the character, Gulliver, the son, dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts. We have other characters from a mental hospital.
Gulliver, the son, tries to commit suicide by jumping off of a roof. He is miraculously saved by the healing powers, and since that moment it was hardly brought up again. It was dismissed, almost. No consideration of how this boy has serious mental health issues and needs professional help. I understand this wasn’t the main focus of the book, but I think if you’re going to use this as part of the plot line you treat it with care. It’s not “all of a sudden since being miraculously saved his problems disappeared”. Dealing with mental health takes work. It can’t just be magically “cured”
Also the scenes in the mental hospital I found difficult to swallow. To me it felt as if the character was like “lol maybe we’re all just crazy, it’s fine, it’s just because humans can’t understand themselves” and I just found that really insulting???? For someone who has mental health issues and who works on overcoming them I was like sureeeeee. To me it just seemed to then romanticise mental health as something cute and quirky – one person sprouts about Star Wars, someone else’s mental health basically makes their whole character – and I just didn’t like it.
So for me I found it to be too flowery and not raw enough. Yes, it’s not the focus of the book but if you want to explore this side of humanity you have to do it with a certain care. Such as the whole conversation on people being violent, the book seems to excuse violence as “well they’re not all bad all the time” “they fight the urges” “there’s more to humanity than that” like ok?? I get this is an alien but ugh.
So yeah – I just didn’t like the representation of certain elements.
What I did like about this book was that it was sometimes funny, it brought up interesting debates in to history and humanity: the problem is that not all of it managed to hit.