How to Be Human by Paula Cocozza

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How to Be Human by Paula Cocozza

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: Savage, sensual and sensational – Paula Cocozza's debut novel is a thrilling exploration of both humanity and nature.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: April 2017
Publisher: Hutchinson
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1786330338

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When Mary arrives home from work one day to find a magnificent fox on her lawn - his ears spiked in attention and every hair bristling with his power to surprise - it is only the beginning. He brings gifts (at least, Mary imagines they are gifts), and gradually makes himself at home.

And as he listens to Mary, Mary listens back. She begins to hear herself for the first time in years. Her bullish ex-boyfriend, still lurking on the fringes of her life, would be appalled. So would the neighbours with a new baby. They only like wildlife that fits with the decor. But inside Mary a wildness is growing that will not be tamed.

Paula Cocozza is a features writer for The Guardian, and recently completed an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. How to Be A Human is her first novel.

It may seem like an odd thing to mention, but I once had a strange encounter with a fox – walking home after a party one night several years ago, (rather worse for wear I hasten to add), a fox chose to trot alongside me for a few moments, rather than dash off as they usually do when encountering a human. Tall and handsome, my drunken brain chose to consider the chance encounter as more, a sign or something equally fanciful. But, six or so years later, it's still stuck with me – and I have a very handsome fox tattooed onto my arm as a constant reminder of that brief moment. So (getting back to the point), I was rather delighted to read Paula Cocozza's novel, a beautiful piece of writing that revolves around encounters with a fox that, gradually, seem to suggest something more than just chance…

Lead character Mary is intriguingly complex – vulnerable and troubled, the reader is immediately plunged into every little detail of her world – from her neighbours to her ex. As the fox enters Mary's world, Cocozza describes the impact of the fox in a riveting and strangely sensual fashion, mixing her prose with poetic passages that work incredibly well, bringing to life the scent, touch and look of the fox as well as exploring Mary and, in a sense, the reader from the fox's viewpoint. It works incredibly well, letting Cocozza splash her descriptions of everyday life with vital and visceral imagery that fills the reader's every sense and truly envelops them in this tale. Well worth a read, it's a remarkable debut and one I highly recommend – so many thanks to the publishers.

For further reading, I recommend H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. A stunning book for many reasons, much like How to Be Human it delicately explores concepts of humanity, loss, and moving on, and does so with the savagery of nature serving as a fascinating counterpoint.

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Buy How to Be Human by Paula Cocozza at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy How to Be Human by Paula Cocozza at


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