October Book of The Month: Ali Smith, How To Be Both
George’s father is out. It is better than him being at home, standing maudlin in the kitchen or going round the house switching things off and on. Henry is asleep. She just went in and checked on him; he was dead to the world, though not as dead as the word dead literally means when it means, you know, dead.
This will be the first year her mother hasn’t been alive since the year her mother was born. That is so obvious that it is stupid even to think it and yet so terrible that you can’t not think it. Both at once.
Anyway George is spending the first minutes of the New Year looking up the lyrics of an old song. ‘Let’s Twist Again’. Lyrics by Kal Mann. The words are pretty bad. Let’s twist again like we did last summer/ Let’s twist again like we did last year/ Then there’s a really bad rhyme, a rhyme that isn’t, properly speaking, even a rhyme.
-Ali Smith, How To Be Both
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How to Be Both is a 2014 novel by Scottish author Ali Smith. Published by Hamish Hamilton, it won the 2015 Folio Prize and was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize for literature 2014.
The book marks a new frontier in the art of storytelling. This is because the style in which it was written breaks all convention of modern day storytelling. The book can be read in different sequences, front to back, or vice versa. The order in which you read it will obviously give you, the reader, a different perspective of the characters.
From the copies that have been printed with George’s portion of the narrative first, we are introduced to George- a pubescent girl who finds herself mourning the unexpected death of her mother. This untimely death causes the girl to cling onto whatever mattered most to her mother in the days before her death, which in this case, is the art of 15th Century Italian painter, Francesco del Cossa. The second opens with the spirit of famed painter, Francesco del Cossa being thrust back up to earth to find itself in seemingly abandoned art museum. It sounds like a lot to take in from the description, but with a little patience on your part, it all comes together.
Without giving too much away, the spirit and the girl somehow cross paths and it is from this meeting that the different print versions begin to make sense. Somewhere in the book, George recalls a conversation with her mother where her mum said, “You know, Georgie, nothing’s not connected,” need we say more?
We chose this book because we felt that you might need a break from psychotic killers and spurned romances evidenced in last month’s selection, The Girl on The Train. That said, we look forward to hearing your thoughts on How To Be Both, and we can only hope that whichever version you get (Be it George first and Spirit after, or vice versa), that the book will change you and make your life all the richer for having have read it.
If you haven’t already, you can buy your copy using this link
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Happy Reading, and have a lovely September!