Tag Archives: mental health

Book review: The Humans

Matt HaigI irritated and intrigued by husband by my constant chuckling while reading this book by Matt Haig. It is now on his to-read shelf. I wish I had read it sooner, it was a breath of fresh air. I read it in two sittings over a weekend. If you feel a little jaded with your reading, this is my prescription for you.

Professor Andrew Martin is not feeling himself. He has been walking naked through the street and finds humans really odd-looking. That is because the real Andrew Martin is dead, and the human who looks like him is really an alien. The alien has come to earth to delete the mathematical breakthrough achieved by Professor Martin before it does damage to humankind. The alien Andrew just does not get humans, in fact his first source of information on human behaviour is from Cosmopolitan magazine.

This is a funny book with a serious message about mental health, about our acceptance of others for what they are, the expectations and selfishness of modern society. Bit by bit, the alien Andrew discovers humans are not as he has been warned; they can in fact be generous, charitable, empathetic and brave.

Here’s a small excerpt. Alien Andrew is recovering from his period of temporary insanity by watching television:

“The term ‘news’ on Earth generally meant ‘news that directly affects humans’. There was, quite literally, nothing about the antelope or the sea-horse or the red-eared slider turtle or the other nine million species on the planet.”

Click here for Matt Haig’s website.
To follow Matt Haig on Twitter [he is very funny], click here.
‘The Humans’ by Matt Haig [UK: Canongate] Buy now

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE HUMANS by @matthaig1 #bookreview via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1zD

Book review: Perfect

Perfect by Rachel Joyce 21-12-13In 1972, two seconds were added to time because it was Leap Year and because time was ‘out of joint’ with the movement of the Earth. It is the addition of these two seconds which causes such upheaval in the life of Byron Hemmings, an imaginative 11-year old boy, and his school friend James. Perfect is about the impact of those two seconds, one stiflingly hot summer. Who would have thought that such a small stumble in time could disrupt so many lives?

Rachel Joyce is an accomplished storyteller with a simple style which is deceptively complex. She weaves together Byron’s story with Jim’s, a troubled man who cleans tables in a supermarket café whilst battling his inner demons. Not once does she explain the link between these two stories, allowing the reader’s imagination to suggest possibilities, until right at the end when she surprises us with the truth. Car accidents feature in both strands, but neither car accident is what it seems. Both accidents are catalysts for what comes next.

The voice of the boy/almost teenager Byron is an interesting choice which allows Joyce to show us the inside of his parents’ marriage, without Byron fully understanding what he is seeing. At once he has both a child’s perception, and an adult’s. Joyce trusts the reader to believe or not believe Byron’s interpretation of things.

She has a similarly subtle approach to observation, hinting at the differences between Byron’s mother Diana, and Diana’s new friend Beverley, by how they walk. Diana’s ‘slim heels’ go “clip clip”. Beverley’s sandals follow with a “slap slap.” Diana is a wisp of a character, light, graceful and young, young in comparison with her son. Very young compared with her husband Seymour who dominates the house, despite his absence during the week, with his stern rules of do’s and don’ts. Diana’s car, a Jaguar he bought for her as a means of demonstrating his success, comes to symbolise his power over her. First she accedes to his control, then chafes against it and finally rebels.

Byron watches this with discomfort and uncertainty, unsure who this new mother, this new Diana, is. As his mother grows more mentally frail, he begins unconsciously to echo his father. He doesn’t like Beverley calling his mother ‘Di’ for example. “It was like cutting her in half.” As Diana leaves household tasks undone, he does them for her.

Joyce has a deft way of handling the mood. One moment, light-hearted, then with a sentence she twists the heartstrings and adds another small touch of mystery.  Jim learns that having a friend means laughing at things and seeing them through the friend’s eyes, as if the friend is “the part of themselves that is missing.” Do we all have something missing, which is provided by our friends and loved ones, or is it just Jim? And what happened to Jim to mess him up like this?

Perfect is about the nature of time, starting with the extra seconds and moving onto Diana’s abandonment of clocks. An exploration of whether time can heal a painful past.
‘Perfect’ by Rachel Joyce [Doubleday]