A Fascinating New Novel–How To Be Both

How to Be BothHow to Be Both by Ali Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After reading an intriguing review in the Women’s Review of Books, I had to read the book. From the review I learned that the novel included two related narratives; half of the editions started with the one narrated by the 15th Century painter, the other half by the daughter of a woman who had loved a painting by that artist. I don’t think there is any way to tell which edition you are getting other than the illustration just before each  “Chapter 1” The girl’s has the security camera, the artist’s has eyes. I got the girl first, and I am glad.

Both narratives are stream of consciousness with fluctuations from past to present. The girl’s moves from life before her mother died to her present. The artists moves from his life and times to the girl’s present as he follows her after she looks at one of his paintings. The links were harder to follow in the artist’s section, and had I started reading there, I’d have been quite disoriented much of the time. However, reading it second, I could use cues from the girl’s earlier narrative. Of course I’ll never know what it would have been like to start with the artist.

The characters seemed real and likable. Both stories were intriguing and held my attention–there is a bit of mystery in each. And as the review stated, juxtaposing them creates a third narrative. I have a lot of thinking to do on that third one.

There were so many “boths” to ponder being. Occasionally the author was a little heavy handed in reminding us to think about such distinctions, but that was rare and also forgivable. Some that I pondered were both living and dead, both old and new, both viewer and viewed, I’m sure there are more. It is a book worth rereading.

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5 responses to “A Fascinating New Novel–How To Be Both

  1. dezertsuz

    It sounds definitely different! They are both in the same book, just in different order, depending on which edition you get?

  2. Thanks for the book recommendation–I’ll look for it!

  3. What an interesting idea. I will have to look for it.

  4. Cher

    sounds quite unique…I will add it to my to read list!

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