‘How to be both’ by Ali Smith


Smith challenges the reader’s expectations, drags us out of our comfort zone and offers a book that is bafflingly brilliant and brilliantly baffling.

The text is composed of two distinct parts that are intimately connected. George’s segment is poignant and melancholic, but is also pierced with moments of genuine laughter. Francesco’s story is harder to get at. It is more abstract and offers an insight into the bizarre workings of Smith’s mind.

Throughout both parts, the prose is waffling, aimless and deliberately provocative. At times it feels like wading through a muddy swamp. There are segments of Francesco’s narrative in particular where you become stuck, virtually unable to pull your heavy feet any further… until the heavens open, a deluge liberates you and before you know it you’re being swept along again.

Ultimately, the characters are powerful and the storyline – when you can follow one – is engaging. It’s worth the slog.

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