The novel cure: Literary prescriptions for misanthropy


Ailment: Misanthropy

Cure: The Humans by Matt Haig

After the glut of family and festivities comes the inevitable backlash: a wave of misanthropy. Ideally you'll be keeping human contact to a minimum right now. However, New Year is coming; and eschewing all social occasions may be impossible. To this end, we prescribe Matt Haig's wonderful novel, The Humans.

An alien race in possession of a highly advanced mathematical intelligence has become alarmed about the discovery, on Earth, of the Riemann hypothesis – a breakthrough that will advance human beings' understanding to hitherto unknown levels. The inhabitants of the planet Vonnadoria know that humans are too corrupt and too greedy to use their knowledge for good; and it would be better for everyone if those who have come into contact with the hypothesis are destroyed. And so they dispatch one of their number to Earth for the job.

Cunningly, the alien hitman takes on the body of Andrew Martin, the professor who made the mathematical leap in the first place. But once he has become human, the new Andrew Martin starts to experience life as we know it – discovering love, music, sex and the exquisite agony of mortality. While the old Andrew Martin was self-obsessed and deceitful, betraying his wife by having an affair, this new Andrew Martin is unaccountably sensitive, thoughtful and loving. It becomes harder and harder to do what he came to Earth to do – and harder to leave.

As the Vonnadorian discovers what it is to be human and attempts to exemplify the best of our flawed but beautiful species, you'll find you cannot help yourself from falling back in love with humanity too.

'The Novel Cure, An A-Z of Literary Remedies' (Canongate, £17.99);