Shortlisted for this year’s Desmond Elliott Prize awarded to debut novels published in the UK, ‘How to Be Human’ by Paula Cocozza tells the story of Mary Green, a woman in her thirties who has recently separated from her partner Mark. Now living alone after buying him out of their home in Hackney in east London, she becomes captivated by an urban fox who regularly visits her garden. Meanwhile, her next door neighbours, Michelle and Eric, regard her new visitor as a pest while Mark makes an unwelcome return into her life.
The setting of Hackney may conjure up images of gritty urban landscapes but there are a number of green spaces in parts of this rapidly gentrifying borough too. Mary’s garden backs on to woodland where Fox has his den, and the close proximity with which they live alongside each other in such different environments raises interesting themes surrounding boundaries and marking territory.