This highly inventive novel is cleverly constructed and exquisitely written. Divided into two reversible halves each titled "One," and linked both thematically and in aspects of the stories, it relates two adventures involving gender-role fluidity. (There is delightful narrative fluidity as well.) One tale involves a 15th Century Italian artist born a woman but masquerading as a man in order to be taken more seriously and receive better commissions. The other focuses on George, a teenage girl in London just discovering her sexuality. The central issue for both, and the strategy of the novel, is expressed emblematically in an exchange between George and her mother regarding an artist friend of the latter's: "Past or present?' George says. Male or female? It can't be both. It must be one or the other./Who says? Why must it? her mother says. /AUGH, George says too loud." There is anguish in the uncertainty, cleverness in the expression, and discovery in the journeys of both Quattrocento painter and 21st Century adolescent. Plus a great deal of wit and empathy in the writing, and pleasure for anyone who reads How to Be Both. I smile bigly when I think of reading it again.— Brant
MAN BOOKER PRIZE FINALIST
WINNER OF THE BAILEYS WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION
WINNER OF THE 2014 GOLDSMITHS PRIZE
WINNER OF THE 2014 COSTA NOVEL AWARD
WINNER OF THE SALTIRE LITERARY BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARD A Best Book of the Year: NPR, Financial Times
Passionate, compassionate, vitally inventive and scrupulously playful, Ali Smith's novels are like nothing else. Borrowing from painting's fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, How to be both is a novel all about art's versatility. 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.
About the Author
Ali Smith is the author of many works of fiction, including the novel Hotel World, which was short-listed for both the Orange Prize and the Booker Prize and won the Encore Award and the Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award, and The Accidental, which won the Whitbread Award and was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Prize. Born in Inverness, Scotland, Smith lives in Cambridge, England.