how to be both

howbothHow to be both
by Ali Smith
2014/ 384 pages
rating – 9 / general fiction

The introductory material says this book (even e-book) can be read in two ways – the EYES section first and then the CAMERA section or vice versa.  Just click the “eyes” graphic or the “camera” graphic.  Okay – I clicked “EYES.”

In spite of the very contemporary cover art EYES opens in Renaissance Italy with an “unknown painter of the school of whatever you like…”  speaking in 1st person which is written out to look like a poem,  and I think describes his being born.

“Just saying.”   Kindle loc. 150  –   I read that and laugh out loud  because it’s so surprisingly modern and yet, for some reason,  it works.  The language is defamiliarizing –  Ali  has our semi-literate protagonist use misspellings and leave words off the ends of sentences and sometimes skip words from the middle.

Within a few pages this child becomes a young painter living in Ferara (Ferrara) in north- central Italy.  Our boy is very talented and it’s noticed early on and he learns that art can be powerful. His mother dies and he awakens to senses other than sight and sound – there’s texture and smell – (I don’t remember taste).   Still, the boy is only about 5 or 6  years old.  After his mother dies,  the child’s father offers him boy’s clothes and it strikes me that the boy may be a girl!   (sounds about right for Ali)

S/he gets a name – Francescho-  and then seems to have landed in purgatory without remembering how he died.  So he/she learns about painting and how to use his art to tell a  story  like Piero di Cosimo (1462  – 1522)  also known as Piero di Lorenzo –

“…how to tell a story, but tell it more than one way at once, and tell another underneath it up-rising through the skin of it) – I would paint my own walls. ”  (Kindle Locations 574-576).

We find out for sure this is a girl – about page 30.  :

“I had come of age, was full grown, had been binding my chest with linen for a decade, not too difficult being slim and boylike then…” (Kindle Locations 581-582).

Overall this was a fun book but there’s really no “plot,”  just the author using some characters to show the reader some different ways of looking at things – That said – there’s a fair amount of suspense built in about what actually is going on.  Fwiw, I really enjoyed the EYES section more than the CAMERA section –



1 Response to how to be both

  1. Pingback: how to be both | Becky's Books -

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