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How to Be Both Paperback – 13 October 2015
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|Paperback, 13 October 2015||
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- Publisher : Anchor Books; Reprint edition (13 October 2015)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0307275256
- ISBN-13 : 978-0307275257
- Dimensions : 13.13 x 1.83 x 20.24 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 331,022 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
"Playfully brilliant. . . . Delightful. . . . Incredibly touching." --The Washington Post"Magnificent. . . . Brilliant and cheeky." --The Boston Globe "[A] sly and shimmering double helix of a novel." --The New York Times Book Review
"Joyful. . . . Moving. . . . Encompasses wonderful mothers, unconventional love and friendship, time, mortality, gender, the consolations of art and so much else." --NPR "A mystery to be marveled at. . . . Smith is endlessly artful, creating a work that feels infinite in its scope and intimate at the same time." --The Atlantic "Ali Smith is a genius. . . . [How to be both] cements Smith's reputation as one of the finest and most innovative of our contemporary writers. By some divine alchemy, she is both funny and moving; she combines intellectual rigor with whimsy." --The Los Angeles Review of Books "Captivating. . . . How to be both indeed works both ways, demonstrating not only the power of art itself but also the mastery of Smith's prose." --San Francisco Chronicle "A synthesis of questions long contemplated by an extraordinarily thoughtful author, who succeeds quite well in implanting those questions into well-drawn, memorable people." --The New York Times "Innovative. . . . The book's high-concept design is offset by the beauty, prowess, and range of Smith's playfully confident, proudly unconventional prose." --Elle "Deft and mischievous, a novel of ideas that folds back on itself like the most playful sort of arabesque." --Los Angeles Times "Ali Smith's signature themes--of the fluidity of identity and gender, appearance and perception--are here in profusion, as is her joyful command of language, from lofty rhetoric to earthy pun." --Minneapolis Star Tribune "Ali Smith is a master storyteller, and How to be both is a charming and erudite novel that can quite literally make us rethink the way we read." --The Philadelphia Inquirer "An entirely delightful and moving story. . . . When you reach the end of this playful and wise novel, you want to turn to the beginning and read it again to piece together its mysteries and keep both halves simultaneously in mind." --The Dallas Morning News "A wonderfully slippery, postmodern examination of the perception, gender, loss and the lasting power of art. . . . The sort of book you could happily read a second time and uncover overlooked truths. In art as finely crafted as this, there's always more to see, if you look." --The Miami Herald "Boundless. . . . Exhilarating. . . . Smith's concerns--in subject matter and form--are profound and encompassing, and it is beautiful to watch her books defy pinning down." --Portland Oregonian
"An inventive and intriguing look into the world of art, love, choices, and the duality of the human existence. . . . Even though Smith is writing two very different stories from two different eras, she does a masterful job of weaving connecting threads between the two." --Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Wildly inventive. . . . The narrative voice makes the double-take cohesive, as both are lyrical and fresh. . . . I absolutely adored this book." --Laura Creste, Bustle "Smith's talent shines brightest in her tender depiction of the emotions that, like the underpaintings in a fresco, remain hidden but have a powerful impact." --BookPage
About the Author
Ali Smith is the author of many works of fiction, including the novel Hotel World, which was short-listed for both the Orange Prize and the Booker Prize and won the Encore Award and the Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award, and The Accidental, which won the Whitbread Award and was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Prize. Born in Inverness, Scotland, Smith lives in Cambridge, England.
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Top reviews from Australia
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A third member of the club had attempted the Kindle version but given up, defeated by the prose style and layout. Both our Kindle editions started with Eyes (15th century), whereas our friend's paper copy started with Camera (21st century). All the of us agreed that Camera was much more accessible. I've read reviews on this page from people who read the same sequence as I did and preferred that way. All I can say is that (re)starting with Camera, there is now a reasonable chance I might actually finish the book versus virtually no chance starting the other way round.
If you have time on your hands and can take the book in large chunks at a time, then you might want to challenge yourself by staying with Eyes, but if, like me, you are snatching a few minutes reading at a time, I strongly recommend starting with Camera.
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. Not that I imagine it would be a very different experience since the stories seem only very loosely connected. Perhaps we are supposed to wonder whether the 15th Century narrative was just made up by George. Certainly it never felt quite authentic as a mediaeval narrative. And although the George narrative felt more real, it didn’t seem to go anywhere.
Normally Ali Smith’s writing is clear and unambiguous, drawing beauty from human life rather than from arty language. However, this seems to have been abandoned for How To Be Both where much is opaque. It is especially difficult to tell what is happening at any given point in the Francescho narrative as it seems to be so half formed and to wriggle about so much.
I’m not quite sure what Ali Smith was trying to do here. Her short fiction is excellent and her novels are playful and innovative. Perhaps this is trying to be both but it isn’t succeeding.
Top reviews from other countries
I am firmly in the latter category, and like many other people I cannot conceive how it was the winner of the 2014 Costa Novel of the Year Award and won or was shortlisted for other prizes in 2014 and 2015. Either there were few candidates in those years, which is unlikely, or the judges and reviewers had collective bouts of insanity, possibly, or they were perhaps afraid that any criticisms would elicit disapproval from their peers, probably!
reviewers called rich strong and moving :
daring inventive down to earth funny
profound and deeply
moving sagacious playful
compelling : but arranging text in patterns
across the page is merely annoying and the whole book is poorly written
The book contains two separate, but supposedly related, stories, each of which tries and fails to be intelligent and clever. In the edition I read, the first is set in 2014 and concerns a pedantic 16 year old teenager called George (Georgia), who is grieving the recent death of her mother, a prominent economist and journalist; while the second is allegedly set in the 1460s and describes the life of a young female Italian renaissance artist who had painted a fresco that George and her mother had seen on a visit to Italy. [I say “allegedly” because although the blurb on the back of the book says this, there are no dates in the text and few clues to confirm the period.]
I understand that Ali Smith asked her publishers to print two versions of the book, one with the modern text first and one with it second. If my edition had been printed with the renaissance part first then I would have stopped reading after the first four pages of gibberish, thus saving me many wasted hours, but as I am a completer/finisher I persevered until the end, hoping against hope that I would find something to justify my time. I did find a flash of insightful writing after 300 pages or so, long past the point of no return, but by then I was irritated and frustrated by the author’s stream of consciousness writing, unpunctuated sentences, unnecessary artificial effects (see above), unbelievable characters and the absence of a plot or plot development (in both parts!). It should not be necessary to have to re-read and reconstruct sentences - adding my own punctuation, structure, and deliberately missing words - in an attempt to understand them. Moreover, I had no empathy with, and neither did I care about, any of the characters.
I read and enjoy novels by many modern authors, including those translated from foreign languages, but I thought this was one of the worst books that I have read for a very long time. It was memorable only because it was so bad. Incidentally, my wife read the book first, and she gave up at the end of the first half!
This book will be going straight into the recycling pile!
I find it completely incomprehensible why so many reviewers on Amazon have given it negative reviews, and argue that it is "difficult" - unless you can't cope with anything more sophisticated than Dan Brown, I don't see why anybody would have difficulty with the prose style. I found whilst reading the second part of the book (in my case the 15th Century section) that I needed to check things in the modern day story which I'd forgotten, and the reviewer who said that you should re-read the first part (whichever one) after finishing the second part, is probably making a good suggestion, but the way that the two stories intertwine with one another and reference each other is one of the many joys of the book.
Highly recommended, one of my most enjoyable reads in a long time (and I have already bought further copies to give to friends).
I can understand the confusion or irritation of some of the reviews below and would love to know which way round their versions were printed as I think if I had read these stories in the opposite order I would have been confused and missed half of the references in the painters story.
I however began in the present day with George's story, which after getting used to the lack of speech marks and the stream of consciousness style of writing I thoroughly enjoyed. I then understood straight away where the painter's story was coming from.
I very much enjoyed looking up all the art referenced in both stories, which I think definitely helps the enjoyment of the book and although I might not be heading off to Italy straight away I'll definitely be visiting the National Gallery to see one for myself.