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How to Be Both
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June 2018: Magical Realism > How to be Both - A. Smith - 5 stars - Listopia

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message 1: by Jgrace (last edited Jun 20, 2018 07:11AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jgrace | 3112 comments How to be Both - Ali Smith
4.5 stars

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.”

EYES is a disjointed first person narrative of a 15th century Italian painter who can, in some unexplained manner, look through the eyes of his own painting as it hangs in a 21st century gallery. As his thoughts wander through returning memories of his own life, he is also making ironic commentary on his observations of contemporary life as he follows a young girl through her adolescent struggles.

CAMERA follows the grieving adolescent girl, Georgie, as she negotiates the year following her mother’s sudden death. Her grief is palpable. She is tied to the long dead artist and his gallery painting through her politically radical mother’s own fascination with the his work.

This book pushes the edges. It stretches the definition of magical realism. It messes with picaresque historical fiction. It’s awkwardly elegant. It confused me. I liked it. I liked it alot, although it required me to suppress every rule of grammar and punctuation that I taught, ad nauseum, for over 30 years.

It seems there is a requirement to make the ‘chicken or the egg’ statement when discussing this book. Which came first? I read the historical part first; my personal preference is for historical fiction over contemporary fiction every time. The frustrating irony of this book’s structure in that you cannot have both. I could read the book again in a different order, but I can only experience it one way in the first instance. After that first time, the spoiler factor intrudes.

This is Ali Smith, and I was aware that there would be an LGBT theme to the book. But that is not the only way ‘being both’ impacts the layers and layers of meaning in her text. How to be both; grieving and happy, dead and alive, seen and unseen, here and there. How to be brilliant, no matter which way you read it.

Susie | 4488 comments Jgrace, you liked this more than I, but I feel like I appreciate more in the rearview mirror. I read it in the same order as you did, and I’m glad as I didn’t love the historical section and would have struggled to plough through has it been at the end. I gave five stars to the contemporary half and three to the historical for an average of four.

message 3: by Anita (new)

Anita Pomerantz | 6750 comments So with my limited exposure to Ali Smith being Autumn, I am not a fan, but I'm super intrigued about the idea of the structure of this book. Fascinating. I do love when author's play with structure. Unfortunately I'm not really much of a fan of the fantastical ideas that often go hand in hand.

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