Book Review: How to be Both – Ali Smith

I’m reading a lot at the moment. It’s the summer holidays so I have the time and I try to take advantage of it.

This week I read Ali Smith’s How To Be Both. I’d heard about it, and remembered it, because of it’s novel structure.  It has two linked stories and different versions of the book have them in different orders. Some people get the story of Georgia, a 15 year old girl dealing with the death of her mum, first. Followed by the story of an Italian Renaissance fresco painter. How on earth are these stories linked, right?! I’m not going to detail it here.

Other readers get it the other way around. This is how I read it. I’ll be honest, I think getting Georgia’s story first would make it an easier read. The Renaissance story is difficult to get into. It starts off as a confused stream of conciousness reflecting the mental state of the narrator. It settles down, but took some persevering to get to this point. Georgia’s story has a more straightforward narrative and you would be invested in the story before you reach Francesco’s confused state.

I liked this book. It’s interesting structure alone make it a worthwhile read, in my opinion. It is also a good story. I don’t want to give too much of it away here, but it has a few recurrent themes that crop up a lot. Being two, usually opposing, things at once is the main one (clearly reflected in the book title!). The two stories are worlds apart, but echo each other in clever, satisfying ways.

There’s a fair amount of art discussed in the book. I found being able to see the artwork via my ipad as it was described incredibly helpful. The link to real world art is a great feature of the book. The character of Georgia is also a real highlight. I loved how she corrects peoples grammar in her mind.Her internal monologue is often very funny and revealing.

Complaints? I’m not sure I’m satisfied with some parts of the stories not being concluded. There’s a huge ‘but why???’ question I have about part of it. The book is like a snapshot of Georgia’s life and I wish I knew it turned out. This isn’t a deal breaker for enjoying the book though, I don’t mind an ending I have to interpret myself. And I don’t *get* the book cover!

Overall, worth a read. It’s clever and interesting but somehow I didn’t utterly love it.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: How to be Both – Ali Smith

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