HOW TO BE BOTH by Ali Smith
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HOW TO BE BOTH

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This adventurous, entertaining writer offers two distinctive takes on youth, art and death—and even two different editions of the book.

George, short for Georgia, is 16, whip-smart and seeking ways to honor her dead mother. She vows to dance the twist every day, as her mother did, and to wear something black for a year. She also inhabits a memory, a visit to Italy they made together to view a 15th-century mural her mother admired, and studies a painting by the same artist in London’s National Gallery. There, she sees a woman her mother knew and tries to study her as well. In the book’s other half, the ghost of the 15th-century artist pushes up through the earth to the present and finds himself in the museum behind George as she studies his painting and just before she spots the mystery woman. The painter’s own memories travel through his youth and apprenticeship in a voice utterly different from and as delightful as George’s. He—though gender is bending here too—also loses his mother when young and learns, like George, of the pain and joy of early friendship. He provides an intimate history for the mural in Italy and offers a very foreign take on George and modern times. The book is being published simultaneously in two editions—one begins with George's half, and the other begins with the painter's, which might be slightly more challenging for its diction and historical trappings. Both are remarkable depictions of the treasures of memory and the rich perceptions and creativity of youth, of how we see what’s around us and within us.

Comical, insightful and clever, Smith (There But for The, 2011, etc.) builds a thoughtful fun house with her many dualities and then risks being obvious in her structural mischief, but it adds perhaps the perfect frame to this marvelous diptych.

Pub Date: Dec. 2nd, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-375-42410-6
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2014




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