This is a difficult book to review. It exists in two halves: the stories of Francesco, the Italian renaissance painter, and George, a teenager stuck in modern-day Cambridge.
‘how to be both’ initially feels experimental and clunky and I found myself sighing inwardly at the prospect of a laborious read. However, moving through the artists narrative I found myself captivated, although I am left wondering exactly why. The journey through a painters personal history in relation to the time period was fascinating (for me as a philistine anyway) and Smith described vividly the artists life and struggle as a grieving 15th century adolescent.
The second part read more like YA with its morose undertones, identity confusion, bullying, school problems and realisation of parental fallibility. The book is completely unique in its subject threading; I would give it just short of five stars however as the final third of the book seemed to continually try proving the notion of ‘life imitating art’. Smith kept waxing philosophical, particularly through George’s mother, and I started to get frustrated with the repetition.
Overall, a fantastically individual novel that could be discussed at great length. I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up on school reading lists in the next couple of years.