In a class of its own: How to be both

9780141025209How to be both by Ali Smith

Two stories in one: Del Cossa, a forgotten renaissance artist of the 1460s and George (Georgia), a modern teenage girl mourning the death of her mother. Two stories of love and injustice in a circular tale that will leave you wondering.

First Impressions: The version I read had the renaissance story first. I listened to the audiobook of Hotel World when it was published and it was clear to me that Ali Smith writes to be read out loud. Reading Del Cossa’s story was fine but I imagined how brilliant it would sound, particularly the first and last few pages.

Highlights: This is one of those novels that you appreciate even more the day after you finish it. Del Cossa’s story by itself was interesting but not compelling yet pair it with George’s story (the emotional weight of the novel) and it is all sheer brilliance. Stick with it! As other reviews state, your reading experience is unique based on which story you read first, and it is so true! The first character you meet is always the central character in your mind. You can’t unread the story and try from the other perspective. Having two stories vaguely linked like this and published in a random order sounds both predictable, exhausting and pretentious (think Cloud Atlas, perhaps)  but instead it is memorable and affecting. Much to my delight, George’s link to Del Cossa’s art is believable and understated rather than awkward and obvious.

If I was an editor: I would question the use of a few of Del Cossa’s turn of phrase, particularly ‘just saying‘ which is also a twitter hashtag. Surely someone should have weeded this out?


Del Cossa’s character and story is actually all imagined by George and her modern slang and obsession with grammar and punctuation ( : ) seep through to the renaissance story…

Yet another reference to being both.

Overall: Well worth the overdue library fee.

How to be both: 5 stars