Canongate, £12.99 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop

The Humans, By Matt Haig

This novel about an alienated genius brings a Martian perspective to life on a strange planet

Iknow this is going to sound weirdly egocentric, but I have a funny feeling that this book is about me. For starters, the hero is a bloke called Prof Andrew Martin, of Cambridge University (tick and tick). If that wasn't enough, he is convinced he is an alien (tick).

There are a few trivial differences: he has just solved the Riemann Hypothesis, a classic mathematical conundrum right up there with Fermat's Theorem and the Poincaré Conjecture. And he may have had a major mental meltdown (potential tick). Either that or his body and mind have been possessed by a Vonnadorian from a planet a billion or so light years from Earth. Or, more exotic still, a French philosopher (definite tick).

Matt Haig pays homage to the work of Kurt Vonnegut, notably Slaughterhouse 5, and its Tralfamadorians. But, unless I am misreading the signs here (always a serious risk), the French connection is subtly hinted at. Andrew (ET) Martin's home planet is somewhere in the Derridean galaxy. And he speaks like a true existential, angst-ridden soul, marooned in time and space, tormented by impossible options. The first-person narrative is punctuated by enigmatic and yet resonant statements that would not be out of place in Being and Nothingness or The Outsider, such as, "I am not what I am", and "I was a wasn't".

I like to think that I am not alone in feeling that I am (at some obscure level) an alien (although obviously I am alone). So I am going to omit the riveting story of my close encounter with the UFO. Because this is the beauty of The Humans: it manages to be both absurdly idiosyncratic and singular and, at the same time, charmingly universal.

This is a brilliant high-wire act, keeping alternative hypotheses perfectly poised – is he really an alien or just a 21st-first century schizoid man? Aren't all serious mathematicians a little bit like this? Beyond the philosophical echoes, there are suggestions of a political allegory: the aliens are radically collectivist, perhaps North Korean in tendency, although with more of an emphasis on the colour violet. Alternatively, the book can be read as a religious pastiche, with the son of a super-powered life-form having to relinquish his powers on Earth. Which seems perfectly reasonable to me, since I have always thought of the Bible as a decent exercise in science fiction (obviously God is an alien – creating universes is just something that bored Beings do from time to time).

The plot has Andrew Martin progressively going native, as he gives up his exclusive devotion to prime numbers in favour of poetry, peanut butter, and the Beach Boys (tick, tick, tick). And watching depressing football matches (while still perversely enjoying them). His orders from above, I should add, are to murder his own family and anyone else who has knowledge of his earth-shattering intellectual breakthrough. (Dear family, please note, this box remained unticked.)

Bertrand Russell said that we shouldn't say, "There goes a dog": we ought to say (to be more epistemologically consistent) "I see a canoid patch of colour". Haig's book has the great virtue of getting beyond the laughably parochial, narrow-bandwidth, dogmatically anthropocentric gossip that passes for realism on our planet, to give us engagingly humanoid patches of colour, as well as one extremely sympathetic dog. There is more than a dash here of Craig Raine's Martian sending a postcard home.

The explication of the obvious, although carried off with panache, can be overdone and runs into the problem of infinite regression. If you are going to say, "the blue trousers known as jeans", logically you would have to define "trousers" too, not to mention "blue".

Still, I am tempted to echo Mr Spock's word, as he observed Earthlings – fascinating. Matt Haig sees everything, as if for the first time. His parallel universe is surprisingly familiar. You don't have to be either an alien or a nutty professor to read this book. It speaks to the Andrew Martin in all of us. Only one question – why does no one call him "Andy"?

Andy Martin teaches at Cambridge University; his latest book is 'The Boxer and the Goalkeeper: Sartre vs Camus' (Simon & Schuster)

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam