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How to Be Both
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Archive: Other Books > How to Be Both - Ali Smith - 4 stars, I think? PBT Decathalon for May

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Susie | 4488 comments As I mentioned in someone else's review, I sometimes really love Ali Smith!! And then sometimes she leaves me feeling confused and perhaps as if I am not smart enough to understand her complex, cooky writing. I often feel as if I am missing connections. How to Be Both was Booker nominated in 2014, and I can absolutely see why. The book is in two parts, and at the beginning the reader it told that they can read it in whatever order they wish. As I was reading it in electronic form I decided to go with the conventional front to back option. I am glad that I did, as I found the first half slow going and may not have continued if it was the second half. The subject matter didn't have me compelled to read on, and I found the format hard to absorb. It tells the story of Francesco del Cossa, an Italian renaissance painter who was forced to pretend to be male so that she could work as a painter in a time when all painters were male. She finds herself in the afterlife, musing on her life while simultaneously observing a young boy. It really was hard work.

The second half was much more enjoyable. The writing was still characteristically Ali Smith, witty, weird, but immensely satisfying to me. Had I only read this section of the novel I would definitely give it a five. It tells the story of George, and young woman coming to terms with the death of her mother. George becomes obsessed with Francesco del Cossa, as her mother was, and as she is experiencing her grief the story is peppered with ties, some ambiguous, some more obvious, back to the first half (or the second depending on how you read it!) of the novel.

I feel confused and overwhelmed just writing this review! The Francesco del Cossa half gets a three from me, and the George half a five, so I have given the novel as a whole a four.


Tracy (tstan) | 1237 comments This one is on my shelf, and I think I need to get to it soon, just to see how much I agree with you!


Susie | 4488 comments I think there is value in reading it so it won’t be a waste of your time. I can’t wait to hear what you think.


message 4: by Jason (new)

Jason Oliver | 2098 comments I felt the same way about my decathlon book. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour.


message 5: by Jason (new)

Jason Oliver | 2098 comments They are awarded for originality. I think this leads to puzzlement when finished. Not sure how you really feel because they are different


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