Befriending the wild: How To Be Human by Paula Cocozza
How To Be Human is a gripping and unusual novel about wildness, loneliness, and obsession. When a fox appears in Mary’s garden she tries to make him leave, but soon she realises they have a burgeoning connection that nobody around her will understand. As she battles against other forces – the neighbours with young children who want the fox problem dealt with and her ex-boyfriend who seems to be lurking around – Mary sees the fox as the constant in her life, but her preoccupation with the fox threatens to drown out everything else.
A plot summary does not do the novel justice. Cocozza’s writing gives the book a tight focus and draws the reader into Mary’s world, painted deftly as a place where she feels uncomfortable until she has the fox to keep her focus. It is a story of a woman befriending a fox, but it is also the story of modern day loneliness, of isolation in a city filled with etiquette and the wildness that Mary finds escape with. The writing is detailed and the action meditated, making the novel a careful exploration of how the fox changes the main character.
On the one hand, How To Be Human is a classic kind of book about a character’s mental state as they become obsessed. On the other hand, it is original and fascinating, highlighting the line between city and wilderness and how sometimes those can become blurred.