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How to Be Both Hardcover – 2 December 2014

3.6 out of 5 stars 504 ratings

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Product details

  • Publisher : Pantheon Books; 1st edition (2 December 2014)
  • Language : English
  • Hardcover : 371 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 0375424105
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0375424106
  • Dimensions : 14.22 x 3.23 x 21.62 cm
  • Customer Reviews:
    3.6 out of 5 stars 504 ratings

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Review

Playfully brilliant. . . . Fantastically complex and incredibly touching. . . . This gender-blending, genre-blurring story, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, bounces across centuries, tossing off profound reflections on art and grief, without getting tangled in its own postmodern wires. It s the sort of death-defying storytelling acrobatics that don t seem entirely possible. . . . [A] swirling, panoramic vision of two women s lives, separated by more than 500 years, impossibly connected by their fascination with the mystery of existence.
Ron Charles, The Washington Post
Brilliant. . . . [How to be both] will one day join Virginia Woolf s Orlando as a key text in understanding the fluidity of human life. Its power emerges from a dazzlingly twinned structure. . . . The desire to capture the past, Smith beautifully shows, is one of our essential ways of recognizing that it lives like the ghost of a painter or the memories of a dead mother. Art, whether it is a debased film or a hung fresco, or this magnificent book, reminds us of this lesson, so we can go back into the world to live.
John Freeman, The Boston Globe
[A] sly and shimmering double helix of a novel. . . . The two parts of How to be both have overlapping themes: the subversive power of art; what Martineau refers to as sexual and gender ambiguities; the hold of the dead on the living; and, of course, the figure of Francescho him/herself.
Christopher Benfey, The New York Times Book Review
Dazzling. . . . A cutting-edge, even radical rumination on time, language, art, love. . . . Ali Smith is one of our most delightfully experimental writers, in the vein of Jeanette Winterson and even Virginia Woolf. By breaking the constraints of a traditional novel, she reinvents it as an exultant testament to creativity.
Michele Filgate, O, The Oprah Magazine
Can a book be both linguistically playful and dead serious? Structurally innovative and reader-friendly? Mournful and joyful? Brainy and moving? Ali Smith's How to be both, which recently won the prestigious, all-Brit two-year-old Goldsmiths prize for being a truly novel novel, is all of the above and then some. . . . Smith, whose books include The Accidental, There But For The, and the essay collection Artful, has outdone herself with How to be both. . . . To say that there's more than meets the eye in this terrific book is a gross understatement; it encompasses wonderful mothers, unconventional love and friendship, time, mortality, gender, the consolations of art and so much else. . . . Once again, Smith's affinity for beguiling oddballs and the pertly precocious rivals J.D Salinger's. . . . [A] gloriously inventive novel. . . . Ingeniously conceived.
Heller McAlpin, 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. . . . Her writing is crisp and elegant. . . . Smith has said that the duality of the novel, in which stories run over and alongside each other, is inspired by frescoes, which often bear layers of drawings underneath what s visible. Among the questions she sets out to explore: how to be both male and female, how to laugh while in pain, how to know who you are and be able to escape that identity, how the past lives on in the present. . . . Perhaps, Smith seems to suggest, every circumstance or obstacle can be subverted and become its opposite at the same time.
Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic
Captivating. . . . Your experience of the novel will be different depending on which story you start with. But either way, the revelations and conclusions will be the same. How to be both indeed works both ways, demonstrating not only the power of art itself but also the mastery of Smith s prose.
Rachel Hurn, 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.
Janet Maslin, 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.
Lisa Shea, Elle
Who comes first, Del Cossa or Georgia? It depends on which version of the novel you read. The idea, Smith wants us to understand, is that all stories, all pieces of art, are conditional, dependent on the observer's gaze. . . . Deft and mischievous, a novel of ideas that folds back on itself like the most playful sort of arabesque.
David L. Ulin, 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. . . . Smith re-imagines Francesco as a disguised girl, the stonemason s child becoming an artist in a rich Renaissance mishmash of sharp wit, low comedy, pathos and historical detail.
Ellen Akins, Minneapolis Star Tribune
Many of this novel's great joys derive from Smith's ability to tie together the two seemingly disparate stories in wonderful and unexpected ways. It's a meditative book, steeped in the voices of these characters. . . . Ali Smith is a master storyteller, andHow to be bothis a charming and erudite novel that can quite literally make us rethink the way we read.
Andrew Ervin, The Philadelphia Inquirer
An entirely delightful and moving story with characters so endearing and human that you want to remark, as Francesco s mother does about her daughter s drawing, It s very good. Well seen. . . . 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. Reading Ali Smith s How to be both is like finishing a cake and having another delicious one still before you to enjoy.
Jenny Shank, The Dallas Morning News
A wonderfully slippery, postmodern examination of the perception, gender, loss and the lasting power of art. . . . Smith s technique is bold and experimental, but what makes her work so rare and desirable is that it always contains a moving emotional core. Her novels may stretch stylistic boundaries, but they also compassionately, even tenderly, explore the universal perils of being human. . . . 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.
Connie Ogle, The Miami Herald
Ms. Smith s work is an intelligent and warm treatise on accepting one s self while learning to be someone better, and her choice of theme suits this concept perfectly. . . . Ms. Smith uses her two narrators to give depth and meaning to each other. Ultimately, what her novel explores is that despite differences in technology, cultural norms, and across spans of centuries, the business of growing up and becoming oneself is a journey towards the marriage of what s inside and outside a constant learning of How to Be Both.
Wendeline O. Wright, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Boundless. . . . Exhilarating. . . . Smith sustains the layering of time, consciousness, and perspective of life in death and death in life. . . . Smith's concerns in subject matter and form are profound and encompassing, and it is beautiful to watch her books defy pinning down. . . . Is How to be both one novel or two? Is it contemporary or historical? Is it mainly philosophical or mainly narrative? Do its questions pertain to our present or to the past? At every point the answer is: both.
M. Allen Cunningham, 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.
Erin Kogler, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Ali Smith is a genius. . . . Smith, who was born and raised in Inverness, continues a Scottish literary tradition, whose practitioners include James Hogg, Robert Louis Stevenson, Muriel Spark, Alan Warner, and James Robertson, of tearing a rent in the scrim between the physical and the metaphysical worlds to allow a stranger, or anotherto slip through. Her willingness to embrace the supernatural, when taken in conjunction with her acrobatic language, wit, philosophical bent, and her overarching obsession with form, also places her within that select British modernist sisterhood alongside such doyennes as Virginia Woolf, Angela Carter, Beryl Bainbridge, Penelope Fitzgerald, and Iris Murdoch. . . . [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. . . . If we think of time as Smith would have us do, we do not become older butdeeper; no one is ever gone, and nothing is ever lost, that cannot be found again, if sought.
Susan McCallum, The Los Angeles Review of Books
Wildly inventive. . . . Francesco and George s stories explore themes of loss, art, what it means to see, sex and gender, and disguise. The narrative voice makes the double-take cohesive, as both are lyrical and fresh: there are no quotation marks, and so the close third person voice often intrudes on the dialogue to correct, reassert, and sometimes to let us have itbe both. . . . I absolutely adored this book.
Laura Creste, Bustle, Best Books of December
"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."
Lauren Bufferd, BookPage
How to be both celebrates the gift of surprise. . . . I found myself smiling again and again, caught unawares by how well and how beautifully Smith ties together so many seemingly disparate elements. . . . The past and present are connected through an Internet search, themes of death and memory are explored, pop culture and high art swirl together, and careful research allows the line between fiction and history to blur.
Betty Scott, Bookslut
Ali Smith'sHow to be bothapproaches the world as only a novel can.It's an amazing book. One you'll read with ease while cross-referencing earlier passages. The book moves not so much in a straight line as in the twisting helix pattern. It's almost interactive. . . .The book delivers the heat of life and the return to beauty in the face of loss.
Kenneth Miller, Everyday eBook

What if an Italian Renaissance painter were to drop down to Earth and observe the mysterious modern world specifically, the world of one bright, young Cambridge girl in the wake of a recent family tragedy? This is the premise of Smith s bold new novel actually two novels (Eyes and Camera) in one. Camera is set in the present, when George (Georgia) is grieving the loss of her mother, a feminist art and culture critic, who liked to challenge George about the meaning of art and life, and who became so intrigued by the work of Italian artist Francesco del Cossa that she spirited her children off to Italy to view his frescoes (only recently uncovered beneath later paintings) in their natural setting. Francesco s story (Eyes) covers his friendship with the boy who grew up to become his benefactor and patron, as well as his early art training and his work on the grand palazzo walls. Two versions of the book will be available: one beginning with the artist s story, the other with George s and readers won t know which they will be reading first until they open their particular book. The order in which the stories are read will surely color the reader s experience of the whole. Which version is the preferred? And how to be both seen and unseen, past and present, male and female, alive and dead, known and unknown? In a work short-listed for this year s Man Booker Prize, Smith presents two extraordinary books for the price of one. Library Journal (starred)
In this era of extolling genre fiction and the joys of story, Smith s latest novel makes a case for experimental, literary fiction. One half of this daring novel is the mostly conventional tale of a precocious teen struggling with the death of her arty, brilliant mother. George, nee Georgia, is still living in a kind of stunned stupor. She sees a school counselor but is mostly helped by her first crush, the alluring H, who starts to pull her out of her shell. The other half of the novel is narrated by the disembodied voice of a fifteenth-century painter caught in the wave-laden air of twentieth-century Britain. As the spirit observes the contemporary world, with its votive tablets (iPhones), she casts back to her own life disguised as a boy in order to practice her art. Along the way, we learn of a teenager s bratty ways with her smart but sometimes overbearing parents, the power politics of Renaissance Italy, the best places to procure blue pigment, and how everyone, everywhere, must come to terms with the passage of time and the grief of loss. And we learn how to be both: male and female, artist and businessperson, rememberer and forgiver, reader of tales and literary adventurer. Lucky us. Booklist (starred review)
This adventurous, entertaining writer offers two distinctive takes on youth, art and death and even two different editions of the book . . .Both are remarkable depictions of the treasures of memory and the rich perceptions and creativity of youth, of how we see what's around us and within us. Comical, insightful and clever, Smith builds a thoughtful fun house with her many dualities and then risks being obvious in her structural mischief, but it adds perhaps the perfect frame to this marvelous diptych. Kirkus Reviews (starred)
Captivating . . . British author Smith (There but for The), a playful, highly imaginative literary iconoclast, surpasses her previous efforts in this inventive double novel that deals with gender issues, moral questions, the mystery of death, the value of art, the mutability of time, and several other important topics . . . Smith s two-in-one novel is a provocative reevaluation of the form. Publishers Weekly (boxed, starred)
Early Praise from the UK for How to be both

Extraordinary . . . Warm, funny, subtle, layered, intelligent . . . Brilliant. The Spectator
Exuberant, rhapsodic . . . Dizzyingly good and so clever that it makes you want to dance. New Statesman
Dazzling indeed . . . Smith has written a radical novel, one that becomes two novels, with discrete meanings . . . Those writers making doomy predictions about the death of the novel should read Smith s re-imagined novel/s, and take note of the life it contains. The Independent
[A] rich, strong and moving novel . . . Ingenious . . . A triumph. Financial Times
Immensely enjoyable . . . Inventive and playful, compassionate and sagacious . . . Explores the injustices of life but also its delights, including the pleasures of art and the redemptive power of love. The Express
An heir to Virginia Woolf, Ali Smith subtly but surely reinvents the novel . . . How to be both brims with palpable joy, not only at language, literature and art s transformative power but at the messy business of being human, of wanting to be more than one kind of person at once. The Telegraph"

About the Author

Ali Smith is the author of many works of fiction, including the novelHotel 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, andThe 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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