How to be Both

by Ali Smith

  • ISBN: 9780241145210
  • SKU: 2030301005218

Can a book be both linguistically playful and dead serious? Structurally innovative and reader-friendly? Mournful and joyful? Brainy and moving? Ali Smith's How To Be Both, which recently won the prestigious, all-Brit two-year-old Goldsmiths prize for being a truly novel novel, is all of the above — and then some.

The story is told from two perspectives: those of George, a pedantic 16-year-old girl living in contemporary Cambridge, and Francesco del Cossa, an Italian renaissance artist responsible for painting a series of frescoes in the 'Hall of the Months' at the Palazzo Schifanoia (translated as the 'Palace of Not Being Bored' in the novel) in Ferrara, Italy. Two versions of the book were published simultaneously, one in which George's story appears first, the other in which Francesco's comes first.


Struggling to come to terms with the sudden death of her mother (Carol Martineau - Economist, Journalist, Internet Guerilla), George attends counseling sessions at her school. She also has to look after her younger brother and cope with her alcoholic father. She recalls travelling with her mother to see the Frescos in Ferrara and asking her about the elusive painter Francesco del Costa. Her Mother believed herself to be being monitored by the security services as a result of her subversive activities and George has inherited this belief, and becomes obsessed with Lisa Goliard a friend of her mothers with a suspicious claim to be an artist. George also becomes obsessed with Francesco and travels frequently to London to view his portrait of St. Vincent Ferrer.


Francesco finds his disembodied self in front of his portrait of St. Vincent Ferrer as it is being examined by a boy. He muses on how he came to find himself in this situation, thinking back to the events in his past life and as he becomes attached to the boy, but people--and genders--are never what they seem to be. Or maybe they are both.

How to be both is the dazzling new novel by Ali Smith. This book is the winner of the Goldsmiths Prize 2014. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2014. It is the winner Of The 2014 Costa Novel Award, winner of the Saltire Society Literary Book Of The Year Award, and in 2014 was nominated for the Folio Prize 2015. Passionate, compassionate, vitally inventive and scrupulously playful, Ali Smith's novels are like nothing else. 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. "Smith can make anything happen, which is why she is one of our most exciting writers today". (Daily Telegraph). "She's a genius, genuinely modern in the heroic, glorious sense".( Alain de Botton). "I take my hat off to Ali Smith. Her writing lifts the soul". (Evening Standard). Ali Smith was born in Inverness in 1962 and lives in Cambridge. She is the author of Artful, There but for the, Free Love, Like, Hotel World, Other Stories and Other Stories, The Whole Story and Other Stories, The Accidental, Girl Meets Boy and The First Person and Other Stories

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