One summer’s night, Mary comes home from a midnight ramble to find a baby lying on her back door step. Has Mary stolen the baby from next door? Has the baby’s mother, Mary’s neighbor, left her there in her acute state of post-natal depression? Or was the baby brought to Mary as a gift by the fox who is increasingly coming to dominate her life?
So opens How to Be Human, a novel set in a London suburb beset by urban foxes. On leave from work, unsettled by the proximity of her ex, and struggling with her hostile neighbors, Mary has become increasingly captivated by a magnificent fox who is always in her garden. First she sees him wink at her, then he brings her presents, and finally she invites him into her house. As the boundaries between the domestic and the wild blur, and the neighbors set out to exterminate the fox, it is unclear if Mary will save the fox, or the fox save Mary.
After months of deliberation, I have finally written my thoughts for this book down. How To be Human is an odd story, a bizarre one even. At the same time, it’s also really good and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve thought of the story and characters quite often since I finished reading the book in July and I think that goes to show what an impact it has had on me.
How to Be Human takes place in London and tells the story of Mary who has just split from her fiance and forms an unlikely bond with a fox that she first spots lounging in her backyard. The fox leaves presents for Mary and she in term quickly grows obsessed with the fox and the part it plays in her life. She soon sees him as her partner and even tells others that she is seeing someone. It’s a story about reality, loneliness, relationships, ownership, but most of all it’s very psychological.
The story is beautifully written with detailed descriptions. It allows you to really visualize the setting and the characters. Parts of the book are also written from the perspective of the fox, which is a nice change but also showcases a wonderfully different writing style that just fits so well.
The story does feel uncomfortable at times, teetering on the line of perversity or unrealistic situations. However, that is also what makes it so great. Because it is an insight into one woman’s view of her life and the world and her slipping sense of reality and boundaries.
How To be Human is a terribly original story with a great examination of the psyche and a great writing style. I’m looking forward to reading more by Paula Cocozza.