Does your internal conversation correct grammatical errors or consider alternate conclusions during interactions with other people? That’s one of the first complications in a challenging and ultimately rewarding novel by Ali Smith. HOW TO BE BOTH is truly difficult to describe. From the blurb: “…it’s a fast-moving, genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths and fictions.” As the story progresses, it becomes a primer on painting…15th century fresco painting, that is. Yet, it starts with the emotional distress of a 20th century teen, whose mother has died. All is skillfully interwoven with signs of sexual identity confusion and hints of reincarnation emerging, as well as the historical context and the popular culture of two very different times… all tied together by two narrators revealing their families, their contemporaries, and their interest in art. There is a “here we go again” feeling to the cyclic reconsiderations of time, structure, and stories, yet each new connection draws you in with vivid and perceptive telling of the characters’ lives. The result is a satisfying depth of ideas and insights.
An engaging read for those who enjoy inventive, layered, literary fiction.