VIII: Italy


This is actually my favourite book, by one of my favourite current authors. Well, she’s been my favourite writer for about the past three years. Ali Smith is just so inventive and funny and the characters so unbelievably believable. When I first read a book by her, I strongly suspected that it was largely autobiographical. But now I’ve read enough of her other novels and short stories to realise that she couldn’t possibly be writing all those different kinds of characters and situations from an autobiographical perspective. She’s just got an incredible talent for getting the reader completely sucked into the world of the characters. I can’t think of a writer like her.

How to be both is a novel all about art, time, gender and self identify. Before reading this book, I have to admit I was pretty clueless about the work that went into fresco painting, but I feel I learnt a bit through reading this novel. I particularly love books that involve different eras. This one involves a Renaissance artist in 1460s Florence, contrasted against and combined with the life of a family in London in 2015.

Also, I absolutely love the creativity from a production point of view. There are two main points of view in this book, chapters from the point of view of “Eyes”, and chapters from the point of view of “Camera”. And fascinatingly, there are two editions of this book! One version starts with Eyes, so it goes Eyes/Camera/Eyes…etc. The other version goes Camera/Eyes/Camera…etc. The narratives are exactly the same in both versions, just in a different order. Incidentally, the paper copy of the book, which was the first time I read the book, my copy started with “Eyes”.

I just think this is a fantastic idea, that makes me wonder how my opinion of the book might’ve changed if I had read the opposite way around.

I’m tagging this one as Scotland because the writer is Scottish; English, because half the book is set in London; and Italian, because the other half of the story is set in Florence.