How to be Both: book review and Ferrara, Italy

It’s no lie that one of my favourite days of the month (other than pay day) is book club day. We meet at a really nice pub, have a drink and talk about a book. What could be better?

One of the last books we read was How to Be Both by Ali Smith. I’ve been trying to write a synopsis and I can’t really. I’m not 100% sure what happened. I don’t know who was a girl or who was a boy. I can’t decide if it was all just a cheap trick or not. I wasn’t even sure when it ended due to both options (artist first vs girl first) being included in my Kindle version. What I can say is some of the description was fantastic, I fell in love with the artist (but it’s unrequited). I can also say with some certainty that the book was focused on a little northern Italian town called Ferrara.

I almost fell out of my seat when I read the first few pages and realised the artist was describing Ferrara, Cosimo Tura (another artist), Il Palazzo Schifanoia and the old walls of the town. I wasn’t expecting it and I felt an immediate affinity with it and all my memories started flooding back. In the Autumn of 2008, I lived there for almost 4 months. As I read the (painful) first chapter, I could visualise the streets and the Duomo and the walls. I could almost smell the wet streets and the falling leaves from when I was there.

I’m not sure I liked How to Be Both. I think I didn’t. It felt like the author just started writing and then finished writing at a certain point. It was like she wanted to add in all the literary tricks she could think of, to the point of distraction. Some of the language was also distracting like having the artist say “just saying” continuously. It was hard to get into (I started with the artist’s part).

Like the book, studying abroad was a bit of a hard slog for me – The programme wasn’t great and I don’t always do well in totally new circumstances. I don’t tend to like large groups and I hate tour groups because it distracts me from exploring. However, it was an experience I would never take back.

Whether the book deserved all its accolades is a mute point. I have an opinion, but it’s clearly liked more widely. Regardless, it did inspire me to look through my photos of the little town and I think I’ll have to go back in the near future.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s