I didn’t know what to expect when I opened this book and started reading. Yet five pages in, I was captured. Not swept away, but intrigued. Interested. Wanting to see what was going to happen.
The book is about an alien sent to Earth (you find out after the first page, no secrets will be revealed in this post!) and his mission. The plot is well thought of and original, but what, in my opinion, is the strong point of the book is the perspective. Andrew, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, walks around Cambridge, dazed. We walk with him and see our world through his astonished eyes.
His description of Earth, humans and our way of living is extraordinarily profound. He throws opinions and judgments at the readers that try desperately to duck, to close their eyes, cover their ears and scream “no! That’s not true at all! That’s not how we are” But we know, not even so far down, that we’re wrong and he is right. Humans have got it all upside down and, although the theories and strategies of survival that Andrew’s alien community has embraced (not eating? really?) seem a bit extreme and, at least for me, not relatable to (I love eating), others are on the spot. Point on. A large, strawberry and cream cake in our faces.
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 a question of postcode.
About the news:
Mostly, humans just wanted to know about what was going on within their country, preferably within that bit of the country which was their bit, the more local the better. Given this view, the absolutely ideal human news programme would only concern what was going on inside the house where the human watching it actually lived.
Other passages help us understand ourselves more, in particular the metaphor of life around the end of the book. Life is like a castle received on Christmas day, he says, whose image on the box is amazingly beautiful but that, once opened, is in millions of little pieces that need to be assembled. The catch? The instructions are missing.
This is one of the most insightful metaphors I’ve ever read. Yes, I thought as I was reading. Yes, that’s exactly as it is! With the slight addition, maybe, that all your relatives and friends and acquaintances and, why not, even people that meet you on the street expect you to build the castle that’s been given to you and expect you to make it as breathtaking as the original image on the box.
Neither Andrew nor me think that this is a very sane way to live one’s life.
I found the end of the book slightly stretched – it could have finished several times before the actual end and I struggled to keep reading the last three chapters. It was clear what was going to happen and some of the originality I had found throughout the book was missing. However the seven pages of tips for human beings (97 in total), although being long, were funny and some downright helpful.
So thank you Matt, I will definitely be recommending this book and quoting some of your thoughts – maybe even in one of my english classes as practice texts 😉
(all images in this post were taken from the worldwideweb)