How to be Both by Ali Smith is an adventure in being here and there, alive and dead, as George navigates the recent death of her mother. Yes, ‘her’ mother is dead. Yes, George is a girl. Maybe being both starts in a name. “This will be the first year her mother hasn’t been alive since the year her mother was born. That is so obvious that it is stupid even to think it and yet terrible that you can’t not think of it. Both at once.” (P 4) This is a story of a girl remembering her recently deceased mother and the trip they took to Italy and fell in love with a painting by an obscure painter. In a fact more was known about the subject of the painting than the painter. This is a novel about the mother, the girl, and the painter. George is constantly reminding herself, “Not says. Said.” And she is a stickler for proper grammar, always. After her mother’s death, Georgia, that’s right that’s her other name, sees a therapist, Mrs. Rock, who is confusing George/Georgia even more as Mrs. Rock introduces mystery and the exploration of said word that will continue next Tuesday. Then we are transported back in time to when the painter painted the painting. Then it is his story and we discover the key about how to do both.
A moral conundrum is how to be both.