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How to be Both by Ali Smith

How to be Both

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Winner of the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2015.

Winner of the Costa Novel Award 2014.

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2014 this is an unusual and highly inventive novel. It is in fact two related novellas. In one we meet George, a 16 year old girl whose mother has just died and who’s trying to navigate her own grief whilst keeping her father away from a quick descent to alcoholism and protect her brother from his grief. This story shifts between the present and a time before her mother’s death so we discover a little more about their relationship. Crucially George’s mother introduces her to the work of an Italian renaissance artist, Francesco del Cossa, just before she dies and George plays truant to visit the National Gallery to see more of his work and work through her grief. The other story sees the ghost of Francesco summoned suddenly to the National Gallery in 21st Century London to be the familiar of a girl called George who’s becoming strangely obsessed with Francesco. The stories can and are designed to be read in either order and indeed copies were printed with the story order changed so some readers get it one way and others the other. Complicated but hugely rewarding and a fascinating way of absorbing a story.

The Costa Judges said Smith's novel was “Dazzlingly imagined and daringly inventive, it’s both resonant and moving.”

Winner of the Goldsmiths Prize 2014.

Shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2014.

One of our Books of the Year 2014.

If you like Ali Smith you might also like to read books by A L Kennedy, Monica Ali and Jennifer Egan.

The Good Book Guide logo The Good Book Guide Review. In one of two stories set five hundred years apart, we meet George, a teenage girl struggling to come to terms with the death of her mother and frustrated by her father’s inadequacies. On their last holiday together, George visited Italy with her mother and was introduced to the work of Francesco del Cossa, a renaissance artist about whom very little is known. The tale of Francesco makes up the second story, with Smith imagining the young artist as a girl having to hide her sexuality to fulfil her ambition of becoming an artist in a man’s world. This extremely clever novel asks many questions about art, history, sexuality and surveillance.
~ The Good Book Guide


How to be Both by Ali Smith

How to be both is the dazzling new novel by Ali Smith. Winner of the GoldSmiths Prize 2014 Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2014 Winner of the 2014 Costa Novel Award Winner of the Saltire Society Literary Book of the Year Award 2014 Nominated for the Folio Prize 2015. Passionate, compassionate, vitally inventive and scrupulously playful, Ali Smith's novels are like nothing else. How to be both is a novel all about art's versatility. Borrowing from painting's fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, it's a fast-moving genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths and fictions. 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. Smith can make anything happen, which is why she is one of our most exciting writers today. (Daily Telegraph). She's a genius, genuinely modern in the heroic, glorious sense. (Alain de Botton). I take my hat off to Ali Smith. Her writing lifts the soul. (Evening Standard). Ali Smith was born in Inverness in 1962 and lives in Cambridge. She is the author of Artful, There but for the, Free Love, Like, Hotel World, Other Stories and Other Stories, The Whole Story and Other Stories, The Accidental, Girl Meets Boy and The First Person and Other Stories.


'Radical, dazzling ... Those writers making doomy predictions about the death of the novel should read Smith's re-imagined novel/s, and take note of the life it contains' Independent

'A delight. A masterpiece. Magical.' Sunday Times

'Smith's fervent, vital, incantatory prose is entirely her own ... How to be both reads as if she has summoned words from some region of the unconscious and released them in a trance' -- Joanna Kavenna Prospect

'Dealing with grief, obsession, sexuality and the versatility of art itself, Smith has created a stunning work that is as rewarding as it is challenging' The List

'Rich, funny and moving. Smith's writing really catches fire' Financial Times

'This warm, funny, subtle, layered, intelligent book deserves to be read at least one-and-a-half times' -- Honor Clerk Spectator

About the Author

Ali Smith

Ali Smith was born in Inverness in 1962. She is the author of Free Love and Other Stories, Like, Other Stories and Other Stories, Hotel World, The Whole Story and Other Stories, The Accidental, Girl Meets Boy, The First Person and Other Stories, There but for the, Artful, How to be both, and Public Library and other stories. Hotel World was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Orange Prize and The Accidental was shortlisted for the Man Booker and the Orange Prize. How to be both won the Baileys Prize, the Goldsmiths Prize and the Costa Novel Award and was shortlisted for the Man Booker and the Folio Prize. Ali Smith lives in Cambridge.

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Book Info

Publication date

16th April 2015


Ali Smith

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Penguin Books Ltd


384 pages


Literary Fiction
All Shortlists and Winners
eBook Favourites

Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)



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