Speak to Me by Paula Cocozza: ‘There are three of us in this marriage’

Cover image for Speak to Me by Paula CocozzaI’d read and enjoyed Paula Cocozza’s debut, How to Be Human, back in 2017 but it was the enthusiasm of Rebecca at Bookish Beck that persuaded me to read her second novel. It also has an appealing premise, a riff on the social media theme which has emerged in fiction over the past few years. Set in 2011, Speak to Me is about a marriage in which one partner is so absorbed in his phone he appears unaware that the other is becoming obsessed with her first love after a case stuffed with letters disappears when they move.

Ten minutes ago, when Kurt’s telephone vibrated with a wooden judder on the bedside table, his penis – there may be a more up-to-date-word for it – winced.  

Susan longs for Kurt to drag himself away from the phone she’s dubbed Wendy and talk to her. When he reaches for Wendy during sex, it’s the last straw. Susan and Kurt live in different worlds: he’s a techie developing software for smartphones whose every waking hour seems to be devoted to scrolling; she’s a librarian whose phone is used to make calls but little else. When they moved into their spanking new detached house, leaving Susan’s much-loved neighbourhood behind, it took her some time to realise that the case stuffed with Antony’s love letters had been lost leaving a gaping emotional hole. As the years roll by, Susan becomes increasingly fixated on the lost case, even writing to the new occupiers of their old house to check it hadn’t been left behind, remembering her relationship with the young man who had been so much more open than she had.

We have a modern version of a long-distance relationship. We share a house, but we live in different historical eras.

Susan is an engaging narrator, conscious that she’s out of step with this new world of life spent immersed online, hiding the books Kurt feels they should recycle. She’s desperate for meaningful contact with Kurt who’s barely present in this novel just as in Susan’s life. As she becomes increasingly obsessed with Antony with whom she fell in love at school, it becomes clear that she’s not entirely engaged with this marriage either. Beautifully summed up by its striking jacket, Cocozza’s novel convincingly depicts a woman quietly unravelling as her partner appears to remove himself while still present, slowly becoming aware of her own emotional withholding.

Tinder Press: London 9781472299932 272 pages Hardback (read via NetGalley)


20 thoughts on “Speak to Me by Paula Cocozza: ‘There are three of us in this marriage’”

    1. I thought that might happen after covid cut socialising out of our lives for a time but it seems not. There’s definitely an addictive quality to live online as I know from experience.

  1. I remember losing my rag when my ex started checking his phone and ignoring us when we were having dinner at a restaurant on a family holiday – and complaining to the waiter that the wifi wasn’t working properly, instead of talking to us… Of course, this novel sounds like it is about more than that, but it’s a good starting point.

    1. Not an uncommon problem, I suspect, although I recently spotted a family of four who seemed to have it licked: each of them checked their phones before putting them away and getting down to lunch.

  2. This does sound clever. It wouldn’t automatically appeal to me but you have persuaded me! I’m sure it will resonate with many. I’m trying to be more mindful in how I use my phone, for sure!

  3. With my book subscription hat on, I’m trying to figure out a few references points for this in terms of similar authors. It sounds lighter than Sally Rooney or Patricia Lockwood, but more substantial than much commercial fiction? Help me out here with a few names!

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