How to Be Both: Ali Smith

How to be both

To my shame I had not heard anything about this book in spite of the plaudits that have evidently come from everywhere.I picked it out of the pile of Baileys shortlisted books I won a little while ago because it was short and had big writing! The blurb sounded interesting too. I finished it a few days ago but have been taking my time in writing a review so I can give it sufficient justice. Its hard to put your finger on what it is about this book that makes it so special, but it captivated me and, I think, definitely deserves the praise that has been heaped upon it.

How to be Both looks at two stories. One, a teenager called George struggling to cope with the loss of her mother and looking back at the time they spent together, specifically on a trip to Italy in search of some frescos her mother had read about. The second story is about the life and career of the artist who painted the frescos during the Renaissance however he has somehow found himself in the present day, watching George.

I read somewhere that in different editions of the book, the order of the stories is switched. For me George came first and I think this makes more narrative sense. You probably wouldn’t understand what Franchesco is talking about as he observes George through his 15th Century eyes. It is a very short book, where not a lot happens, but it says so much. About love, loss, grief, art, identity, coming of age, sexuality, truth, family, friendship… Its odd, its quirky, its funny, its so so clever.

5 stars

I’m really not happy with this review. I just can’t seem to articulate why I loved this book so much. Just read it yourselves!


3 thoughts on “How to Be Both: Ali Smith

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed this book, too 🙂 And your review is great. I completely agree with your point about it being a clever book, and I loved how it was accessible too. The version I read had George’s story second and, you’re right, it was difficult to understand what Franchesco was talking about, but it became clearer by the second half. I quite enjoyed looking back at Franchesco’s story and making the links between the two halves. I think it’s definitely a book to reread!

    • Ah, thanks for liking my review. I think I might re-read it the other way around one day although of course I will know what to look for this time.

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