Saturday, March 21, 2015

Review: How to be Both

How to be bothHow to be both by Ali Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is two stories, one after the other (in different orders depending on the copy of the book you have). One is about a teenage girl (in contemporary times) who has lost her mother and how she is dealing with that (for the record, I would not be inclined to pick up a book about that). The other story is about a Renaissance painter whose life contains a lot of "boths." There is a double helix quality to the structure of the book with the two stories twisting in and out of each other which made it much more interesting than it would otherwise have been.
I felt that Smith was a bit heavy-handed making sure we noticed her clever structure -- twist songs ("like we did last summer" is stuck in my head now), and DNA images are part of the contemporary story and didn't feel integral, they felt added in to make sure we didn't miss the interconnection motif. The painter seemed more fully developed as a character than the teenager, but both of them were a overwhelmed by clever turns of phrase and playing around with language. Overall this book was worth reading and Smith was working with some cool ideas, but I was disappointed that the stories weren't about more fully formed characters.
If you want another perspective check out the (FULL of spoilers) NPR review and the piece in The Atlantic (fewer spoilers, but some).

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