Archive for October, 2013

The Humans by Matt Haig

The Humans

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?

The author, Matt Haig:

“This is the book I am most proud of. I have never written anything like it and probably never will again. I have no idea if you will like it. I really hope you do. I am a nervous wreck about this one. I don’t really know why. Well, I do. Because it is personal. I put absolutely everything I had into it so if people don’t like it then they don’t like me, because all the best things I have to offer the world are inside its pages. I don’t want to tell you it is a book that features an alien in it, because you might not like books with aliens in it, and I don’t really. It is a love story and a murder story and a what-are-we-here-for? story. It is about humans. That is why I came up with the title. The Humans. See?”

Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found it both interesting and thought provoking. I believe that there are two levels on which you can read this book and depending on which level you go for depends on how much you enjoy/dislike the book. I read it on the higher level: what is the point in life? why are we here? what is it to be human? and I found that it made me ask questions in regards to my own life. Scary stuff. But on the other level we have the basic story, plot, narrative, and it is this level which seems to fail as a novel. We had split opinions in the group and it’s what I would call a Marmite book – you either love it or you hate it – and that’s exactly what happened. We ranged from a richly thought provoking novel with a quirky, charming narrative, to selective, contrived pap. Hhmm, sums up their opinion I suppose!

One thing that we all agreed on (me included) was that the ending was a bit of a letdown. We did feel that we wanted more from the ending and that it was clumsily finished rather than rounded and concluded in a satisfactory manner. Having said that, and from listening to the authors talk on the book, I believe that the book did exactly what the author intended it to do. If you don’t get it, you don’t get it, but it’s certainly worth your time finding out just exactly what all the fuss is about.

An event was held at Durham Book Festival with Matt Haig and Lottie Moggach (our last novel’s author). As a group we were all going to attend, but I had a slight change of plan and was called away so I’m sad to say I missed it. But, one of our members attended the event and gave Matt a bit of a grilling! She sent me an email giving details about the book which I thought were very interesting indeed; so interesting that I thought I’d share them with you all! I must warn you though that if you haven’t read the book THIS MAY SPOIL IT FOR YOU – you have been warned! This is straight from the horses mouth so please read it as such:

“Apparently in The Humans Andrew Martin suffered a complete psychological breakdown and thought he was an alien, but there was no alien as such. Matt said the novel was all about redemption and how Andrew became a better person and rescued his relationship with his wife and son as a result of his breakdown. At the end I asked whether the two murders actually took place or whether the people died accidentally and Andrew thought he was responsible – he said that yes, Andrew did murder them. I then asked that if the whole thing was in his head, how did that explain the replacement alien, to which he said, ‘that was an alien’ – so not really an explanation!! Someone else asked if it was all in his head, how did he cure the dog’s arthritis and save Gulliver – he couldn’t really explain that either, so it felt a bit unsatisfactory really. I wish some of our group had been there as I think it would have stirred up even more questions!!”

Indeed, I think that if we had all attended then there’d have been a good chance that we would have either been booted out or caused a riot! In the end, there is nothing wrong with strong opinions and we all have the right to challenge certain questions that arise from reading books. That’s the whole point of book group and I couldn’t wish for a better group than the one I’ve got. We question, we analyse, we discuss, we challenge, we explore, we listen, we learn. What more could you want from a book group?

Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach

KISS_ME_FIRST_1375377691PLeila has never met Tess, but she now knows more about Tess than anyone in the world. She’s read all of her emails, researched her past and asked Tess for every detail about her friends and family. Tess has never met Leila. But if she wants to slip away from the world unnoticed, she needs to trust Leila with her life. At first, Leila finds it easy to assume Tess’s identity, and no one has any reason to distrust her. But as Leila is soon to discover, there is much more to a person than the facts and there are things about life you can learn only by living it . . .

When I began to read this I found it very hard to get into. In fact, I was close to putting it down, but once I got into it I found myself wanting to know what happened next. The content of the book is very modern, which did put me off, but the questions that they raise are actually great for a book group discussion. Although this is a very easy book to read it does tackle some very current and disturbing issues. How easy is it to remove yourself from life yet continue your existence through online social media? Do we live in such a world where talking and meeting friends and family is no longer a part of everyday life yet the lack of social media interaction would be a cause for concern? Some odd but scary questions.

As a group we decided that it was indeed quite a disturbing book on a few different levels. Personally, I found Tess’s obsession and ‘affair’ with Connor quite absurd and deeply uncomfortable and this is certainly a credit to the author as it’s been a while since I’ve felt so many emotions from one book. This is also a part of the book that the group also found difficult and disconcerting. It wasn’t a particularly joyful book to read, and some of us did struggle to get through it, but it probably created one of the best group discussions we’ve had in a while.

One of our regular members was unable to attend our meeting, but she did send me a short summary of her thoughts on the book. I read her review out to the group and it was quite startling how similar our overall opinions were. In fact, it was so good I thought I’d share it with you all – so here it is:

I found it a disturbing book and very very sad. I felt that Leila was a victim of so many people, including herself. She created a life for a dead woman which sounded interesting and adventurous, while she lived a nocturnal life for this other woman. The furthest she ever went was Tesco while “Tess” lived a fascinating life in an exotic location, meeting interesting people and keeping in touch with her wide circle of friends. I found that so sad. Rather than getting out there and living her own life she was prepared, for peanuts, to become someone else. 

When she decided to confront Connor the final time I was initially reluctant to read that part as I knew she was deeply deluded and he would hurt her. The ending was happier and the start of her life seems to have begun once the police had taken her laptop and she began, as a result, to talk to Jonty. She needed to open her eyes, move on from her mother’s death  (which I know is very hard) and find out who Leila actually was.

I didn’t like the story but had to finish it as I wanted to know the outcome. It seemed to highlight to me some of the reasons why I dislike online social media sites. Anyone has access to prey on the weak and vulnerable, and remain relatively anonymous. She was left with the guilt and fallout from other’s decisions. Unfortunately it took a hugely ill-judged decision to make Leila realise that real life was out there waiting for her. I didn’t really relate to any of the characters, and I didn’t really like the “of its time” content of the book (I think I prefer stories that could be decade -proof) and it’s probably almost a true story unfortunately.

A super summary and I couldn’t have said it better myself.


About the group

The Tees Valley Book Group meets at Stockton Central Library at 6.30pm on the first Tuesday of the month.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit www.newwritingnorth.com/submit/join-tees-valley-book-group.

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