This week I read a few books, but wasn’t in the mood for anything particularly intellectually challenging so most of them were light read novels.
They say your first novel will almost inevitably be semi-autobiographical, and Keith Stuart’s debut is no exception. The father of an autistic son, Stuart has written a book that incorporates some of his own experiences whilst retaining a fictional narrative.
I don’t buy very many books, because I normally receive free review copies in the mail, but when I read the blurb of The Humans whilst waiting for a train, I knew I had to buy it.
After an ‘incident’ one wet Friday night where he is found waking naked through the streets of Cambridge, Professor Andrew Martin is not feeling quite himself. Food sickens him. Clothes confuse 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?
I showed this blurb to my friends when we went for dinner, and they unanimously agreed that it Professor Martin’s view of the world sounded just like my own.
When I first started reading it, however, I nearly gave up within the initial couple of pages. There’s a pretty ridiuclous storyline woven into the novel – its central one, in fact. But it’s worth sticking with it. I only did because I was stuck on a train for two hours anyway, and it beat staring at the black walls of the tunnels.
It’s worth reading because the book isn’t really about the storyline. Or at least, that’s how it seemed to me. It’s about what it’s like to feel somehow ‘other’, like you don’t fit in and you can’t understand the confusing actions of the people around you. It’s similar to books like The Rosie Project or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, in that people who see the world as a strange and confusing place filled with people who have too many emotions, and who live their own internally structured lives rather than doing what everyone else is doing, will understand Andrew Martin’s views.
Some of my favourite quotes below (no spoilers, but skip to the final paragraph if you’d rather not have any previews).
Humans, as a rule, don’t like mad people unless they are good at painting, and only then once they are dead. But the definition of mad, on Earth, seems to be very unclear and inconsistent. What is perfectly sane in one era turns out to be insane in another. The earliest humans walked around naked with no problem. Certain humans, in humid rainforests mainly, still do so. So, we must conclude that madness is sometimes a question of time, and sometimes of postcode.
Basically, the key rule is, 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 news was prioritised in a way I could not understand. For instance, there was nothing on new mathematical observations or still undiscovered polygons, but quite a bit about politics, which was essentially all about war and money. Indeed, war and money seemed to be so popular on the news it should more accurately be described as The War and Money Show.
Civilised life, you know, is based on a huge number of illusions in which we all collaborate willingly. The trouble is we forget after a while that they are illusions and we are deeply shocked when reality is torn down around us. – J.G. Ballard
So, there you have it. The Humans is the best book I have read since The Rosie Project last year, and I’m fairly sure it’ll be my Book of the Year 2014. I recommend that you buy a copy and read it, especially if you have ever felt as if the world around you is strange and alien.