How to be Both Paperback – 16 April 2015
Audio CD, Audiobook, CD, Unabridged
Frequently bought together
A delight. A masterpiece. Magical., Sunday Times
I take my hat off to Ali Smith. Her writing lifts the soul, Evening Standard
Exciting, full of joy and wryly funny... [Ali Smith is] one of the most inventive writers alive, Emerald Street
A remarkably easy and immensely enjoyable read... Ali Smith is a one-off. Her imagination and originality make her one of the most exciting novelists of her generation. Both George and Francesco touch the heart and linger in the mind long after the final page., Daily Express
Smith is the brightest spark in a recent explosion of female novelists taking dizzying risks with form and voice . . . most contemporary male authors feel Jurassic by comparison., Metro
Rich, funny and moving. Smith's writing really catches fire, Financial Times
This warm, funny book deserves to be read at least one-and-a-half times -- Honor Clerk, Spectator
Radical, dazzling . . . 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, Independent
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- Publisher : Penguin; 1st edition (16 April 2015)
- Language: : English
- Paperback : 384 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0141025204
- ISBN-13 : 978-0141025209
- Item Weight : 266 g
- Dimensions : 12.9 x 2.3 x 19.8 cm
- Country of Origin : United Kingdom
- Customer Reviews:
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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.