Book Review : How To Be Both – Ali Smith

The book brims with palpable joy as it says on the cover. It also brims with a lot of words that I did not understand. The book is in two parts and both parts can be read independently. Neither of the two stories have a cohesive, well rounded plot. Apparently, having no structure whatsoever is a stylistic variation.

Coming to the first part:

It is the camera part. There is no camera in this story. It is just that it is written in third person. Hence the camera maybe. I am not sure. I am not sure if I know what a novel should be like anymore.

So this part is about Georgia – the girl who has lost her mother or is living with her parents. She can be either of the two depending on what part of her consciousness the author is exploring. This piece is brimming with light hearted humour and entertaining banter between the girl and her family members. A delight to read once you get the hang of it.

Now the second part or the eye:

It is indeed as abstract and terrible as it sounds. The eye signifies the artist’s first person account. He is a 14th Century artist in Italy and the girl whose mother died in the first story is loosely connected to him. The dead mother was a fan of one of his paintings. That is all.

Now this story explores this artist’s life and oscillates between different time periods. The gender of this artist is also kept ambiguous because why not. To me, this was one of the most strenuous pieces that I have encountered in a long time. I had to literally force myself to concentrate on this pretentious piece of writing because it is supposed to contain a lot of research and painstaking detail.

Thankfully, it had an end. There was no plot, no story and yet, the author managed to make the ending appear rushed. Too many meaningless events take place in the last ten pages.

This along with some other shortcomings like lack of punctuation marks, abstract poetry and the Italian writing ’cause’ in place of ‘because’ – make this novel a difficult book. Read it if you have some time on your hand.


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