I've enjoyed Matt Haig's blog and feature writing, and this, along with endorsement from Jeanette Winterson, S J Watson and a raft of 5* reviews, meant I went into this novel confident I would love it. Perhaps not a good mindset - disappointment being more likely when expectations are raised.
I won't detail the plot as others have done so, and forgive my sounding like a party pooper, but I confess I was irritated by this book from the start: it is a novel full of inconsistencies, not least because the author's voice constantly intrudes on his characterisation. Whereas Mark Haddon pulls off the ventriloquism of becoming a child with Asperger's, Matt Haig does not enter as wholly into the mind of a sentient being who uses only logical thinking - time and again I noticed our narrator able to extrapolate general truths about human nature from single examples of behaviour one minute, then appear baffled by our species the next. How come, for instance, the alien knows from seeing his 'son' shrug that this is 'one of the main modes of communication for teenagers' when Gulliver is the only teen he's met? Yet a few pages on he seems utterly naive and is horrified by his wife, Isobel, cooking chicken 'breasts'. Both instances, were, for me written with the primary aim of being funny, but neither quite worked as I could sense the author intruding onto the page. The human characterisation is thin, too. There's a lot of hypothesising about love and relationships, yet neither Gulliver or Isobel felt fully realised and thus believable.
The book is fast paced and fun, and for a YA reader may offer a great deal more than it does to a jaded 50-year-old like me. I read it in a couple of sittings and was entertained by the concept of an alien landing on earth and examining what it is that makes us human. I just felt it could have been more - there are better novels out there which explore the nature of relationships - and having relished the incisiveness and honesty of Matt Haig's blogs, I expected greater insights.