How To Be Both – Ali Smith

How to be both jacketREAD FOR BOOKERTHON

Written in two parts, both titled ONE, this is a book about art’s versatility, told by a renaissance painter of the 1460s and a child of the 1960s.

How to Be Both is written in two halves, using both a contemporary and a historical vernacular. The contemporary half  recounts the efforts of 16-year-old Georgie (George) to deal with her mother’s recent death. The historical part harnesses the spirit of Italian Renaissance artist Francesco del Coossa returning to Earth from Heaven to consider Georgie’s situation in relation to his own life.

The editions of the novel published vary: some feature Francesco’s story first, while others feature George’s story first. It is luck of the draw which version you pick up as to whose story you’ll open with.

In Georgie’s half, she is reflecting on the death of her mother the previous September, and thinks back to a holiday they took to Italy. Her mother wanted to visit the Ferraro Palazzo in order to see the frescoes painted by Francesco del Cossa.

In Francesco’s half of the novel, he is called down from Heaven to exist in modern London. He recognises that there is something important about Georgie that he has been meant to understand.

Both characters not only have gender identity in common, but also the tendency to examine things that once existed and now do not, or things that have a physical presence and an invisible essence. In difference times they are both believers that something can exist at once in two different formats.

Via each other, both Georgie and Francesco come to have a deeper understanding of the world.

There was a lot more world : cause roads that look set to take you in one direction will sometimes twist back on themselves without ever seeming anything other than straight, … many things get forgiven in the course of a life : nothing is finished or unchangeable except death and even death will bend a little if what you tell of it is told right.

✎ “Written in poetry-like prose we discover the two main characters are inexplicably linked and everything comes together at the end. It is very much a product of Smith’s usual cleverness and writing prowess but it does require effort to not miss anything. I certainly did miss stuff!” – Rachel

✎ “If I was cleverer I think would enjoy Ali Smith’s writing more. Not dissing myself, it is what it is! I read this book sometimes in awe, and sometimes not quite following what was going on. Not the first of her novels that I’ve been excited about reading only to swing between ‘argh, I don’t get it’ and ‘this is genius’.” – Suzy

Published 2015
Anchor Books
336 pages

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