Review: How to be Both (Ali Smith)

Genre: General Fiction

Rating: ★★★★


 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.

Who says stories reach everybody in the same order?
This novel can be read in two ways and this book provides you with both.
In half of all printed editions of the novel the narrative EYES comes before CAMERA.
In the other half of printed editions the narrative CAMERA precedes EYES.
The narratives are exactly the same in both versions, just in a different order.

The books are intentionally printed in two different ways, so that readers can randomly have different experiences reading the same text. So, depending on which edition you happen to receive, the book will be: EYES, CAMERA, or CAMERA, EYES. Enjoy the adventure.


Oh, this book! This wonderful, weird yet heartwarming book! I admit it was so difficult to get into this book at first. My narrative began with the 16 year old girl, George (short for Georgia) who recently lost her mother. But in the midst of her sadness and grief and attempt to move on without her mother, I became very, very attached to George. In truth, I am a sucker for mother-child stories and this hit me right in the spot.

Then the story transitions into a Renaissance painter’s narrative. She’s a girl name Franschesca who hides her identity by being a boy (Franchesco) to get a job as a painter, since in those times female painters were not encourage/celebrated.

Now it seems like these two stories are separate and not related, but they are. Not to give any spoilers, but there is a beautiful relationship between George, her mom and Franschesca’s personalities. They revolve around the issue of feminism, self worth, passion and the loss of a beloved family member.

The writing style is so amazing! Like I was blown away by how close I felt to George and that her life is relatable to mine. It’s the story of pursuing your passions despite being in an unconventional situation, and having the faith that moving on is just as painful as it is liberating.

A recommended read from me, experience the whole thing yourself. I don’t think words could ever justify how amazing I felt this book is. 


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