Challenge 1, Book 8: How to be Both

Book 8 is How to be Both by Scottish author Ali Smith.

The book itself is divided into two sections, Camera and Eyes. Camera is set in the present-day and is the story of teenager George, who’s grieving over the recent death of her mother. Eyes is set in 15th century Italy and is the story of Francescho, a woman living as a man in order to have a career as a painter.

The author invites us at the beginning to read Camera and Eyes in the order you’d like. I began with Camera, which probably shaped my experience differently to those who started with Eyes.

This is the book I’ve enjoyed least out of the eight I’ve read so far. It’s not a bad book and I know quite a few people have given it glowing reviews. It just didn’t speak to me. I did like certain elements of it – George was a strong character, although a bit prickly and precocious, and Francescho’s story gave me some insight into the work of artists but overall, it just fell a bit flat for me.

I’m sure that a re-read would throw up a lot of parallels between the two sections, and layers of meaning that I’ve missed this time around but to be absolutely frank, I’m not sure I’ll ever re-read it.

On a side note, I also have to say that I really dislike the front cover. I understand why that photo was chosen, and I understand that the white background and typography is in keeping with previous books of Ali Smith, but it’s not a cover that would make me pick this book up if I saw it on a shelf.


So, with five of the six read in the shortlist, I’d rank them as follows:

1) To Rise Again at a Decent Hour
2) The Lives of Others
3) The Narrow Road to the Deep North
4) We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
5) How to be Both

Having said that, my money is on The Narrow Road to the Deep North to win.

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