Virginia Hutton embarks upon an experiment. She will take an ape and raise it as a human child…

She purchases an infant orangutan and names him Appius. She clothes him, feeds him, and puts him to bed in a cot every night. As Appius grows older, she teaches him to dress himself, to speak, to read, to stand and walk up straight, to eat his meals at the dining table with a knife and fork. She teaches him how to be human. The young orangutan is not always a willing student. Their relationship becomes fraught and flits between that of mother and child, teacher and student, scientist and experiment. But as Appius gains knowledge he moves ever closer to the one discovery Virginia does not want him to make: that of his true origins.



Publisher Website



Wow! Why has it taken so long for this story to be reissued?! I knew nothing of this author before the stunning cover drew me in, but now I’m just itching to read all that she wrote before her tragic death during the Blitz.

This is one of those quietly powerful books that really packs a punch – the simple story of nature v nurture and how loneliness affects people in different ways. In the case of Virginia, she is a middle aged woman who seems to yearn for some company, but spurns attempts from friends to connect. Her plan to not feel so lonely? Raise a baby ape as a child to see if he can be turned ‘human’ by just being around her and being treated like a real baby…… is it madness? or is it just a genuine attempt to search for answers in how surroundings affect an animal.

She dresses him as a baby, puts him in a cot, even teaches him to talk over the years and you can’t help but be moved by her devotion to him. And what adds brilliantly to the story is that it features both their sides of the story and it is difficult not to feel sorry for both of them in different ways. Virginia seems driven by loneliness and needing a purpose in her life as she’s too proud to reach out and ask for help from others. Whereas Appius is trying hard to please his ‘mum’ but animal instincts often take over and he’s often scared and confused. There are many dark undertones throughout, but mixed in with the touching moments when you see the genuine bond they begin to build up.

As he grows up, his inquisitiveness takes over and he even gets to experience bullying from children in the village – just like a real boy. Seeing his experiences it hits a nerve with Virginia – has she done the right thing? She is plagued by those doubts of harming Appius with her experiment, but her need for companionship gets the better of that rational.

A stunning and bold book and one that kept me totally captivated and mesmerized.