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Summary

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2014

Costa Novel Award Winner 2014

How to Be Both is a novel all about art's versatility. 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.

©2014 Ali Smith (P)2014 W F Howes Ltd

What members say

Average customer ratings

Overall

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    47
  • 4 Stars
    51
  • 3 Stars
    42
  • 2 Stars
    8
  • 1 Stars
    9

Performance

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    49
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    31
  • 2 Stars
    4
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Story

  • 3.5 out of 5 stars
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    42
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    44
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    34
  • 2 Stars
    9
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    11
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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Dealing with loss

What three words best describe John Banks’s performance?

Good performance

Any additional comments?

This was my first Ali Smith and maybe my last. There were some wonderfully descriptive extracts and the love of art and colour and fascination with how to re-create things were pleasing, as was the relationship between George and her mother followed with the struggle to deal with her loss. It was outside my normal genres and while it had some touching moments, it required by far too much concentration. I want to read for pleasure and relaxation and 'How to be both' did not allow me that, instead leaving me -at the end - with unanswered questions for which I will probably have to re-read the book - which is not likely. Overall probably not worth the straying from what I normally read.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars

Don't think this worked as an audio book

If this book wasn’t for you, who do you think might enjoy it more?

I just don't think the dialogue heavy writing translated well into audio format.

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from How to Be Both?

I got half way through and lost the will to go on. The shift to different characters didn't work for me and I lost interest.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A refreshingly different novel

Unmissable weave of stories and insights into the world of painting. Please write us more of your unusual stories as this was certainly as addictive as your last one.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Graham
  • Rayleigh, United Kingdom
  • 12-03-15

Hard going with no final feel good moment

So hyped I had to read it. Prose is excellent, idea is great story isn't up to it though. Too cryptic a tale for me.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Nicola
  • kinoulton, United Kingdom
  • 09-01-15

Interesting and original

What did you like most about How to Be Both?

The settings in modern day England and renaissance Italy

What other book might you compare How to Be Both to, and why?

Never read anything quite like it!

Which scene did you most enjoy?

I liked the story of George more than the story of Francesco

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

George and her mother visiting the palace in Ferrara

Any additional comments?

Whilst I enjoyed this book I found the way it was written and the use of language quite distracting and stopped me from getting really emotionally involved.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Ms
  • Versoix, Switzerland
  • 01-10-15

Let your brain go out of focus

If you could sum up How to Be Both in three words, what would they be?

A higher level of literature

What did you like best about this story?

This story is a highly intellectual investigation of how things can be opposites, at the same time; separated by centuries, yet simultaneous; real, yet unreal, all at once.
This story is a simple, heart rendering description of an average teenage girl learning bereavement, firmly grounded in humanity.
It is both those things, all at once.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

George's interactions with her brother

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

excellent

the actor was very good though some parts may work better in a physical book

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Not bad once you get into it

it would have made more sense with a female narrator and some emotional expression too!

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

I enjoyed it overall

sometimes I felt the Renaissance part of the story dragged. I was absorbed by the modern half though and left wanting to know more.

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars

lacking in substance

the narrator had a thankless task. the author​ is obviously very bright. but the storyline is lacking.

Sort by:
  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Robin
  • 18-01-15

Annoying

This book did not meet my expectations. It's the first I've read by Ali Smith and was highly recommended, but I was very disappointed. I found the schoolgirl Georgia tedious and of very little interest and all the stuff about present tense and past tense and the death of her mother just annoying. The things presented as insightful - the girl on the porn video - were trite.

The Francesco part of the story was worse. All the gender-bending stuff was pointless.

I thought the whole thing was a waste of time and I was glad when it finished.