This wasn’t the next blog post I was intending to write.
However what happened to me today ties together thoughts from three of my previous blog posts and so I felt compelled to write about it and the next one can just wait.
First of all my last blog post “An Original is Worth More Than a Copy?” focused on the influences and inspirations I drew on for Prophecy of Innocence. In it I questioned whether writers ever really have a truly original idea. I suggested probably not, but after what I have read over the past four days, I will freely admit that I was wrong.
You see I have just finished reading a book called “The Humans” by Matt Haig.
A novel, which to me, at least, is like nothing else I have ever read in the world of fiction. It took only four days for me to eat my way through it (and that was only because I had all the mundane things life throws at you like a job and gardening and ironing and homework and children’s birthday parties to fit in. All those things we would rather not do but do nevertheless.) If it were not for all these ‘necessary’ chores I’d have read it in an evening.
I see the word “un -put-down-able” written about so many books, only to find that quite often I do put them down and then they sit staring at me from my bedside table for months on end making me feel guilty – as though I were betraying them by not finishing them. The words on their spines penetrating into my consciousness every time I see them. Sat there. Unloved. Having promised so much and delivered so little.
“The Humans” was nothing like this. It lived up to my expectations and then exceeded them one hundred fold. I have found myself over the past few days sneaking off to the bathroom when I didn’t need to use it just to have an excuse to sit and read a chapter in peace. And this is just one of the (more minor) great things about “The Humans”. The chapters are short and manageable and easy to digest in small bite-size chunks which glide down to the gut with the silkiness of a piece of creamy chocolate. And in your gut they stay. Slipping into every space there and satisfying you with every last bite.
As I mentioned in a blog post a few weeks ago “To Write One Must Read?” I talked about how I had become a little bit of a non reader just lately. How I was struggling to pay attention and didn’t think I particularly needed to keep on reading to write. I did end by asking whether I was just reading the wrong books. Turns out yes – yes I was. And Matt Haig would be one of the first to tell me you must read to write. So far this is not going too well to promote my earlier blog posts is it? How can you trust anything I say now? How can you trust my recommendation for Matt Haig’s “The Humans”?
Ah well because of the fact it is the first fiction book I have enjoyed and read all the way through, without stopping for too long in about 3 years. So this should tell you I’m a fussy so-and-so and do not make recommendations lightly.
Secondly, the fact of the matter is “The Humans” is, quite simply, sublime. It tackles the meaning of life, the meaning of what it is to be human and some of the wider issues around depression in a way which is not obvious or depressing. Unless you have been depressed in which case you will recognise some of the metaphors Haig uses. If indeed they are metaphors. They were for me. Perhaps for some people they will not be metaphors at all. It’s just a damn good, well written, clever story. And it talks about prime numbers and their significance. A lot. And I hate maths and do not understand the significance of prime numbers but with “The Humans” I began to and now find myself wanting to learn more about them. So that should also tell you I can’t be feeding you a bad review.
Another reason for sharing this blog was because for me reading “The Humans” came at exactly the right moment. As a human being and as a writer. As a writer because I recently had an idea for writing another novel. This time not a children’s one. But I felt the idea was too absurd. Too “out there”. However, reading “The Humans” made me realise it’s not. It’s what I want to write and so i should do it. I do’t mind if it never gets published. It’s a book inside me that I know one day will be written. So reading “The Humans” is helping me on my writing journey and so a review of it seems completely relevant on this page.
As a human being, reading “The Humans” was so enlightening I did not want the book to end. Haig’s wisdom permeates through every sentence in such a real and honest way I felt like I had a life map in my hand which I dared not put down. Allow me to expand.
Recently I have had a real downer on the world. A real downer on the human race, myself included. I have started to become really angry towards and intolerant of the actions of others to the point of sinking into quite a depressed and frustrated state about our society and about myself. Anger towards the small acts of selfishness I witness on a daily basis; On the roads and in the car park on the school run. Anger at the neglectfulness of parents who allow their children to ride bikes on roads without helmets therefore putting themselves and drivers at risk. Anger towards homeless people who shout abuse when you don’t give money to them. Anger, to boiling point at the bigger issues surrounding the education policies of leaders in this country and frustration at working under a system I cannot reconcile my values towards. I have felt angry at myself for not being able to deal with things in a more positive way. In short I have felt despair and hopelessness for the future.
Enter “The Humans”.
As I chomped my way through the first third of the book, I found myself feeling quite smug about how I felt about my fellow man. I was right. Humans are despicable beings, capable of violence and terrible deeds. (Although generally I find selfishness is human-kind’s most despicable trait as it is what I witness first hand rather than out and out violence, thank goodness.) Even the everyday, mundane things we humans do seem absurd and are absurd if you really think about it. But I had grown to think of them as despicable rather than absurd. “The Humans” forces you think about these mundane things and the absurdity of them but also the joy within them and so it makes you laugh. Haig makes you see them for the complete ridiculousness they are. Never have I laughed so much at one word: Texaco. (You’ll see.)
I found myself, scary as it was, easily identifying with the main protagonist of the story to whom humans seem so alien. This is how I feel often about other people. They seem so alien to me and so unreal. When I suffered from depression and anxiety a few years ago (see my blog post DePress This) I felt this even more so. In fact, at that point, I found other humans positively threatening. I was scared to interact with another human being. Much like Haig’s protagonist.
I continued greedily through the second third of the book, digesting the uncomfortable truths of attempted suicide and suicide, human vanity, depression, fear, hate, love, hope, murder, food, bullies, mathematics and change. But I still felt angry at the world. I don’t know what I expected. I think I expected I was going to feel better by reading something I could identify with so strongly but instead I just felt uncomfortable. Gripped but uncomfortable. With myself and my own feelings towards my fellow human beings. I still felt anger towards humans because the book highlights how everything is so damn complicated for us and we are all so selfish and fallible and, well, insignificant.
You’re all now thinking: Seriously. You are not selling this book to me. I feel depressed just reading this. But please bear with me. Remember my post DePress This? You have to put up with the rain to get the rainbow. I had a happy ending remember. And so…
Then today, just when I thought I was going to end the book feeling more confused and angry at the world than when I had began, I read the final few pages.
And I don’t know what happened or how Haig managed to do this, but I went on the school run today and I didn’t get angry at anyone. I didn’t mind nearly being run over by the children on scooters littering the narrow pavements coming at me from the opposite direction like a swarm of wasps. I smiled at a couple of people. I even spoke to another parent on the playground rather than shrinking against the fence, hoping no one would see me. And even when I had to deal with a very difficult issue with a five year old and an issue with my union, I knew I could deal with it all. Because the end of “The Humans” gives us some wonderful advice. It gives one piece of particularly wonderful insight, which above all matters more than anything. But I won’t give a way what it is. I think everyone should discover it for themselves. Because it may be different for everyone.
This is a book review of a sort,I suppose without telling you too much. Without a synopsis or star rating. But know this:
“The Humans” is totally original and completely refreshing. It made me laugh out loud and it made me weep inside. It made me question absolutely everything about life and humanity but understand absolutely everything about life and humanity. It has given me courage to try to climb out of a spiral of anger and despair I felt myself beginning to enter into. In short it gave me hope.
If you have ever suffered from depression, read “The Humans.”
If you have ever contemplated, or are contemplating, suicide, read “The Humans.”
If you find yourself hating other humans, read “The Humans”.
If you are human read “The Humans”.
If you are not human read “The Humans.”
And then spread the word. It’s like medicine for everything in book form and we need this one to go viral.
Finally, thank you Matt Haig. I have not enjoyed a book so much in what feels like an age.
“The Humans” by Matt Haig is out in paperback and on Kindle in the UK now and in the USA from July 2nd.