Published: 2014 by Penguin | Pages: 376 | RAD Book Club Book #3
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.
I had heard a lot about this book, so decided to choose it for my work’s book club poll. It got chosen amazingly! So we were all excited to get reading this book as we all thought we would get copies with ‘camera’ and ‘eyes’ in different orders which would make for a great discussion. To our disappointment, only one book had ‘eyes’ first – not Smith’s fault at all – it was just a shame!
We discussed various points throughout the meeting including the issues of gender blurring, the importance of walls and how the two halves interacted with one another. If you’d like to see what we though, have a read of the RAD blog here! Now personally, I didn’t get on with this book as well as I had expected to. I found the narrative style quite tricky to read, as for some odd reason it would make my brain feel like it was working at 1000 miles an hour! Not great when your reading before going to sleep!
I found ‘camera’ the easier half to read as I really liked George’s character. She was stroppy yet endearing; to be honest she seemed to be a lot like 15-year-old me! I especially enjoyed the section where she was trying to find 60s music to dance to, as a tribute to her mum. You could really picture the scene thanks to Smith’s exquisite use of description – another aspect I really enjoyed. There was one area that I didn’t really get – George watching porn in the garden – just why? Okay, call me a prude, but I didn’t understand what it added to the narrative.
Looking at ‘eyes’ – I enjoyed the opening to the section. It took me straight back to A-Level English, unknowingly I was beginning to dissect the poem ready for an essay! But as the half progressed, I became distracted and didn’t really get into it. No doubt this probably effected my overall opinion of the book.
Having discussed it with book club, I did come to the conclusion that it obviously is an extremely well written book, with elegant and advanced use of language and narrative structure. I think if I had been reading it for university a couple of years ago, it would have been a great essay subject. I definitely would have thrown some literary theory at it to get into the inner layers. However, for a ‘pleasurable’ read, it was luke warm. So overall I would say it is a great book, but you have to concentrate!
This might seem harsh, but I gave it 2 stars, as for me, it was okay…