How to Be Both by Ali Smith

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Ali Smith’s How to Be Both consists of two very different parts, set during two very different time periods. 50% of the editions you’ll pick off the shelf will have one part first, 50% will have the other part first. Written from the perspective of George, a teenage girl grieving the death of her activist mother in 21st century England, and the spirit of a long dead painter, the joy of reading How to Be Both is found in discovering how these two seemingly incongruous parts tangle around each other to become whole.
How to Be Both is, at the same time, a contemporary novel, and a fanciful, historical ‘what if’. What if one of the greatest, anonymous Italian painters of the 15th century was actually a woman passing as a man? What if the spirits of dead painters hovered around their paintings, and could follow people home from galleries? What if George’s mother’s death was more sinister than George had been told? Can a person exist in more than one period of time? The book incites imaginative speculation, but resists answering the questions it provokes. In other words, the book is a tease, but a playful one. 
Ali Smith writes with energy and charm, in voices that gallop ahead and sweep you up with them. For those who don’t mind their literary fiction on the experimental end of the readable spectrum, How to Be Both is sure to delight.
- P