How to Be Both (Ali Smith)

How to be Both follows the intertwined stories of George, a young artist navigating grief and identity, and a 15th-century fresco painter. Through their experiences, the novel explores themes of gender, art, and survival. The characters’ journeys converge, offering a profound and intellectually stimulating exploration of self-expression and the complexities of existence.

Author: Ali Smith
List: Recent Prize Winner
Year of publication: 2014
Pages: 376




Plot Complexity: high
Language Complexity: rich
Ideas Complexity: high

How to be Both is a linguistically rich and stylistically complex novel that showcases the author’s mastery of language. Its intricate plot weaves together mirrored story lines, challenging conventional narrative structures. The novel explores profound ideas of surviving in a male-dominated world through art, delving into gender dynamics and the power of self-expression. With its sophisticated language, intricate plot, and thought-provoking ideas, How to be Both offers a captivating and intellectually stimulating reading experience that demands readers’ engagement and reflection.



Passionate, compassionate, vitally inventive and scrupulously playful, Ali Smith’s novels are like nothing else. A true original, she is a one-of-a-kind literary sensation. Her novels consistently attract serious acclaim and discussion—and have won her a dedicated readership who are drawn again and again to the warmth, humanity and humor of her voice.

How to be both is a novel all about art’s versatility. Borrowing from painting’s fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, 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.

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.

The books are intentionally printed in two different ways, so that readers can randomly have different experiences reading the same text. So, depending on which edition you happen to receive, the book will be: EYES, CAMERA, or CAMERA, EYES. Enjoy the adventure.

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