Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2014
Costa Novel Award Winner 2014
How to Be Both is a novel all about art's versatility. 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.
©2014 Ali Smith (P)2014 W F Howes Ltd
I couldn't finish it. The story just didn't grip me. I think I must be missing something that the literary circles were able to appreciate.
The narrative itself is not 'both', I did not find the two stories linked in a way that felt like one continuous narrative. Each story is so distinct from the other that the mechanic employed by the author to connect them seems a bit forced. Neither story seems to add much to the other story, there are no revelations made about the actions or circumstances of one character through the experiences of another character and I left feeling as though there was no resolution to either story. This may have been the authors intent but if so, the final 'revelation' was not enough for me to feel as though the two stories were connected or even really say anything particularly profound, as it too felt separate - as though trying too hard to make a point that the story fails to make earlier and does not then have some shared knowledge or insight with the reader to draw back upon, which would have made the story feel more complete. However I enjoyed the perspectives of both characters and each of their stories as distinct entities from the other.
I have never read any Ali Smith books before but I adored this and as soon as I have written this review will be listening to it all over again.
This book did not meet my expectations. It's the first I've read by Ali Smith and was highly recommended, but I was very disappointed. I found the schoolgirl Georgia tedious and of very little interest and all the stuff about present tense and past tense and the death of her mother just annoying. The things presented as insightful - the girl on the porn video - were trite.
The Francesco part of the story was worse. All the gender-bending stuff was pointless.
I thought the whole thing was a waste of time and I was glad when it finished.
"Dealing with loss"
This was my first Ali Smith and maybe my last. There were some wonderfully descriptive extracts and the love of art and colour and fascination with how to re-create things were pleasing, as was the relationship between George and her mother followed with the struggle to deal with her loss. It was outside my normal genres and while it had some touching moments, it required by far too much concentration. I want to read for pleasure and relaxation and 'How to be both' did not allow me that, instead leaving me -at the end - with unanswered questions for which I will probably have to re-read the book - which is not likely. Overall probably not worth the straying from what I normally read.
"Don't think this worked as an audio book"
I just don't think the dialogue heavy writing translated well into audio format.
I got half way through and lost the will to go on. The shift to different characters didn't work for me and I lost interest.
"A refreshingly different novel"
Unmissable weave of stories and insights into the world of painting. Please write us more of your unusual stories as this was certainly as addictive as your last one.
"Hard going with no final feel good moment"
So hyped I had to read it. Prose is excellent, idea is great story isn't up to it though. Too cryptic a tale for me.
"Interesting and original"
The settings in modern day England and renaissance Italy
Never read anything quite like it!
I liked the story of George more than the story of Francesco
George and her mother visiting the palace in Ferrara
Whilst I enjoyed this book I found the way it was written and the use of language quite distracting and stopped me from getting really emotionally involved.
"Let your brain go out of focus"
A higher level of literature
This story is a highly intellectual investigation of how things can be opposites, at the same time; separated by centuries, yet simultaneous; real, yet unreal, all at once.
This story is a simple, heart rendering description of an average teenage girl learning bereavement, firmly grounded in humanity.
It is both those things, all at once.
George's interactions with her brother
"I enjoyed it overall"
sometimes I felt the Renaissance part of the story dragged. I was absorbed by the modern half though and left wanting to know more.
"lacking in substance"
the narrator had a thankless task. the author is obviously very bright. but the storyline is lacking.
"Couldn't believe when it ended. just wanted more."
loved the story. the narrator was kind and empathetic to the story. a wise story.
There are some good things in this. It is a tiny bit tedious at times. Worth a listen.
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