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How to be both

How to be both [Kindle Edition]

Ali Smith
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Product Description

Product Description

How to be both is the dazzling new novel by Ali Smith.


Passionate, compassionate, vitally inventive and scrupulously playful, Ali Smith's novels are like nothing else.

How to be both
is a novel all about art's versatility. Borrowing from painting's fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, it's a fast-moving genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths and fictions. There's a renaissance artist of the 1460s. There's the child of a child of the 1960s. Two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real - and all life's givens get given a second chance.

'Smith can make anything happen, which is why she is one of our most exciting writers today' Daily Telegraph

'She's a genius, genuinely modern in the heroic, glorious sense' Alain de Botton

'I take my hat off to Ali Smith. Her writing lifts the soul' Evening Standard

Ali Smith was born in Inverness in 1962 and lives in Cambridge. She is the author of Artful, There but for the, Free Love, Like, Hotel World, Other Stories and Other Stories, The Whole Story and Other Stories, The Accidental, Girl Meets Boy and The First Person and Other Stories.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 830 KB
  • Print Length: 376 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (28 Aug 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #408 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How to be Both 27 Aug 2014
No Spoilers.

I was more than a little intrigued when I first heard about this book, as I was given to understand that it has been printed in two versions - one version begins with teenager George, who is grieving after the sudden death of her mother, and then moves to the story of a fifteenth century painter, Francesco del Cossa, and the other version is printed the other way around. Or it may just be that there are two ways of reading this book - you can choose to begin either at the first or the second section.

In my version I meet sixteen-year-old George first, who lives in Cambridge with her father and her younger brother, Henry. George's father, finding it difficult to cope with the death of his wife and unable to communicate his sense of loss to his daughter, is drinking heavily, and George, who is in shock and feeling lonely and confused, not only has to try to cope with her own pain and grief, but also that of her little brother.

The narrative shifts backwards and forwards in time, moving between a period before George's mother's death and afterwards. Through George's memories, the reader learns of the interesting and challenging conversations George had with her mother, and we also read about the time her mother took George out of school for an impromptu visit to a palazzo in Italy to see a Renaissance fresco, part of which was painted by Francesco del Cossa. Moving back to the present time, we read of George's counselling sessions, of her feeling that her mother was under some sort of surveillance, and where we learn of George's truancy from school so she can visit the National Gallery to study another example of Renaissance art painted by del Cossa.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One of its legs is both the same 5 Sep 2014
By MisterHobgoblin TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I had expected to be writing a gushing review exhorting people to read a great novel from one of Scotland’s liveliest writers. I have loved almost everything Ali Smith has written.

Alas, How To Be Both has not hit the mark. Basically, it is two novellas, stitched together. In one of them, we find a 15th century Italian girl, dressed as a boy in order to pass herself off as a painter, working on frescoes for the local Duke. This girl, who adopts the name of Francescho, spends time exploring her sexuality in brothels, consorting with a pickpocket, and demanding more money. Oh, and she is dead. Possibly. From time to time, we are reminded that Francescho is in purgatorio, but mostly we find ourselves reading a straight autobiographical narrative, chopped up into little pieces and scattered into a random order. The narrative is written in a preudo-mediaeval voice interspersed with modern colloquialisms such as “Just saying”. Sentences themselves are fragmented and drift off into the ether. It is very confusing.

Then, abruptly, the story finishes and we find modern teenager, George (really Georgia), remembering a holiday to Italy with her mother shortly before the mother died. They saw the frescos that Francescho had painted and wondered about the life of this painter. Cutting between present day grief, greatly exacerbated by the heavy handed school counsellor, and happier past memories, it feels choppy. There is a story of growth and loss; there is a sexual ambiguity; an awakening of an adult from the chrysalis of childhood.

The gimmick is that you can read either story first. The Kindle edition prints the entire text twice – first 15th Century-Current, then Current-15th Century. You can read whichever version you wish.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly great achievement. 6 Sep 2014
By Cornish
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
My copy starts with Del Cossa. in this extraordinary novel the painter is a girl although disguised and appears only as a girl to those closest. We travel backwards and forwards in ghostly eloquence , life overlapping with George ( a girl) whose stories unfolds in the other part. Parts of either characters story appear in the other part. ripples and lapping as though a tide is going in and out.Which Fresco you see dependent on where you start the journey.Art and life in glorious confusion. A truly great achievement .
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stereo vision... 7 Sep 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
How to be Both is a linked pair of novellas written by Ali Smith, and presented in such a way that the reader is invited to choose which order to read them in. (In the Kindle version this may leave you thinking you have a larger book than you really have, as the first 50% is the two novellas arranged Eyes/Camera, and then the 2nd 50% is the same material arranged Camera/Eyes). Eyes tells the story of a 15th century artist who chooses to present herself to the world disguised as a man, because it would be deemed impossible or inappropriate for a woman to paint in this way. Themes of identity and justice, sexuality and loyalty are explored as she produces frescoes and wall-paintings which attract and challenge. Similar themes are explored in Camera, set in the 21st century, and told through the voice of a 16 year old grieving the loss of her mother, and remembering their last holiday together to visit the medieval frescoes painted by the narrator of Eyes. Both tales were well told and drew me in. Neither felt quite complete on their own, and I enjoyed the linking of the two, but unlike many recent novels I've read I was left wanting more. Perhaps that is the author's genius - to leave me wanting more - or perhaps it means there was more that still needed to be said. I will probably re-read How to be Both at some point, and as such it should be clear that I like it! But it didn't blow me away...

How to be Both is longlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize, but might struggle to make the shortlist. (Edit - day of announcement of Man Booker shortlist - it made the shortlist! And given my lack of enthusiasm for some of the other titles it stands a chance! I would place it third, a long way behind Flanagan and within touching distance of Fowler)
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