Title: How To Be Human
Writer: Paula Cocozza
Publishing House: Metropolitan Books
Date of Publication: May 9th 2017
Rating: 5 stars
‘’Focus, Mary. Don’t let him go now. So what if you’re tired and hungry. So what if you’ve crawled to the end of another miserable day in a job you hate, and tomorrow will bring only more of the same, which will feel not the same but worse, and you can’t sleep and can’t eat, which means there’s only waking and working, waking and working.’’
Mary isn’t really at her best. For quite some time, she has been trying to cope with an ugly break-up, a mundane work where an incompetent colleague constantly spies on her, and her weird neighbors. Her monotony is interrupted by the sudden appearance of a male fox, a beautiful creature that seems to understand her better than any human being close to her. Mary finds comfort in its presence but the neighbors don’t share her opinion. Before long, Mary finds herself in the middle of problems that aren’t hers and a struggle to protect this unique animal. The question is where is the end of love and the beginning of obsession?
Paula Cocozza has written an extraordinary novel, one of the most unique I’ve recently read. Haunting, beautiful, puzzling. The setting of the suburbs in London during the sultry summer nights (primarily) creates a seductive and suffocating environment, while the woodlands neighboring the urban scenery emphasize Mary’s connection to nature and her growing isolation from the weird human beings that want to have their say in her life. Cocozza’s writing is so beautiful and so hard to summarize. The novel is full of vivid descriptions in an exceptional marriage of urban and nature scenes. I was able to ‘’see’’ the soft afternoon light on the houses, the blue evening sky. I was able to ‘’hear’’ the own and the insects, to ‘’smell’’ the distinctive summer night air. All these features paint the picture of a summer night when everything can happen and everything can go wrong. It is amusing how the tone changes from one moment to the next, keeping the reader alerted, waiting.
‘’Mary deleted all her messages. She wanted no one else’s voice in her house.’’
Poor Mary with all the lunatics she has to face day after day….Her supervisor, her ex-fiance who is rather intriguing and enigmatic but immensely controlling and manipulative, and her neighbors who stand on the razor’s edge, facing serious issues following the birth of a baby girl. Mary seemingly finds a way to go through a few unpleasant encounters with the aforementioned obstacles and the Fox slowly becomes the one stable point in her life. Soon, the animal is turned into an object of obsession for everyone, a symbol of the unacceptable disturb of the suburban life. Mary will leave you puzzled and fascinated right until the end. Personally, I loved her. Her whimsical nature, her thoughts, and sensitivity… In my opinion, she’s an extremely memorable character.
Despite the playful, whimsical tone and the ‘’feeling’’ of a British urban fairytale, there is a kind of darkness and a tense, foreboding atmosphere throughout this unique story. The owls, Michelle’s depression, the emphasis on lack of sleep, the woodlands and the frequent mention of the fences, the noise of the city, the summer nights. These are only a few of the ingredients that make Paula Cocozza’s novel such a haunting read, painted in a very particular background. The parts of the story that depict the perceptions of the Fox are some of the finest passaged I’ve ever read.
How To Be Human is one of the best books I’ve had the good fortune to read this year. A fascinating mix of Literary Fiction, Mystery and Fairytale, a modern allegory that speaks of obsession, isolation, understanding, threat, and refuge. Of disappointment and the strength that may come through it. Simply outstanding…
‘’That’s where civilization was. Up there, glowing with the borrowed light of street lamps and tower blocks. Down on the ground was desolate. It seemed to her that the purple haze of London’s night sky had been lowered like a lid of light over the clearing to seal all the darkness in place and her inside. She was a tiny specimen in a giant jam jar, thoughtfully provided with a twig floor and cuttings of familiar habitat, awaiting examination through the convex lamp lens above.’’