How to Be Both – 7 Days of Books

“It’s good, to be seen past, as if you’re not the only one, as if everything isn’t happening just to you. Because you’re not. And it isn’t.”

For the penultimate day, I thought I would share my favourite book written in this century, seeing as all my previous picks were published in the 20th Century (I love a modern classic, what can I say?) when my current reading habits are a little more modern. So today I wanted to chat about Ali Smith’s How to Be Both.

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How to Be Both is a novel set in two parts, one following a teenager in the modern-day grieving the death of her mother, whilst the other is a fictional account of the life of renaissance painter Francesco del Cossa. The two don’t sound related at all, and really, the string tying them together is quite thin but there are commonalities enough between the two, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a favourite.

When I first read this novel I didn’t think of it as one of my favourite books of all time, but after putting it down I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was like it gnawed away at my conscious, which I think is pretty apt given the themes present throughout. George’s story (the teenager) in particular just wouldn’t leave me alone, the stark image of grief and teenagedom and sexual awakening just stuck with me – I kind of wish the whole novel was from her perspective, but I get why it isn’t. Cossa’s dreamlike exploration adds a (literal) otherworldly element, written without punctuation in a poetic style, which happens to be one of my literary weaknesses – give me all the experimentation, dammit!

Even now, years after reading it, my appreciation for it grows and grows and my mind continually wanders back to it. It is the ghost that won’t leave me alone…

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