In ‘This Is How We Are Human’, Louise Beech embarks into a new and not so documented territory – dating experience for autistic people. The idea and the premise of the book are fascinating. The book is also masterfully executed. The language is very economical. There is no unnecessary description that slows the narrative. There is much action too. Clipped dialogues additionally emphasise the pacey character of the novel. They don’t contain tags, or these are very limited. There are some nice cliffhangers at the end of each chapter. My favourites are those that relate to Isabelle (Violetta) – Sebastian love dynamic.
Sebastian – a character
However, the setting of the novel is not that alluring, and the characterisation is at times flat. Sebastian James Murphy, the young person with autism, is very well-read, intelligent and knowledgeable, according to this mother, but he does not present himself as a high-functioning person with autism. He sends an embarrassing erotic letter to a fifteen-year-old. His vocabulary is underdeveloped for that age (at least at the beginning of the book). Many people with this condition have a passion for quirky words, such as the narrator from ‘The Remains of the Day.’
At the beginning of the novel, his only spark of geekiness is the fact that he says that he is twenty years, six months and two days at the beginning of the novel. But still, this sounds a bit childish for his age. His poetry is also infantile. He studies to be a bricklayer. Sebastian doesn’t in any sense resemble a geek from ‘The Rosie’s project’ or a high-functioning woman with autism from ‘Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine.’ He is not analytical like many people with this condition. He does not even comprehend the idea of a sexual clinic.
Sebastian – his journey in the novel
Although Sebastian grows in ‘This Is How We Are Human,’ however, it is a bit implausible that he has changed so much over the course of so little time. The fact that he didn’t tell who had beaten him up is a clever device by the author. We also learn about him more. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of music artists and lyrics. I would also like to see how obsessive he can get. He should be more fixated on people and subjects. For instance, with Norma Jean, who showed some interest in him, he could collect her photos etc. or at least googled her up. This relationship seems too plain.
I think if Sebastian was pitched more like a person with high-functioning autism, the book would attract a much wider readership. The book could be set in some well-known university city where he would be portrayed as a top student, or to avoid a cliché, a high-achieving one.
Isabelle (Violetta) – a character
Louise Beech’s skill as a writer also shows when it comes to the characterisation of other characters. Isabelle (Violetta) is skillfully drawn, and her backstory is carefully weaved into the main plot. There is excellent, quirky detail about her adopted name that is supposed to be taken from the opera La Traviata. She tells her clients that at this show, her parents met and fell deeply in love.
What is a bit jarring in this plotline is the fact that she is a student nurse, and as such, she would be expected to attend many placements during her studies? In the book, this played no role. The book cover also says that she thinks only of money. This doesn’t manifest itself in the book, where she has an ill dad, for whom support she pays. This is a clever way of showing her more comprehensive personality even though NHS funding is available in these cases. I think it would be wiser to give her another passion which would manifest itself in a different uni course, possibly medicine, but could be literature.
A bit telling section in ‘This Is How We Are Human’
We also learn a lot about Sebastian from the initial appointment at the Sexual clinic, and we learned about him through the conversation, mostly through his mother’s words. I think it would be more interesting to learn about his personal characteristics by observing him rather than being reported that he is very literal, for instance.
‘This Is How Are We Human’ is certainly a very engaging read. The book is written in an accessible way, and I can see it as a potential beach read. I loved the way all these characters lives are intertwined and became bound forever.
Buy ‘This Is How We Are Human’ on Amazon
Thanks for reading.