Why Ali Smith should win the 2014 Man Booker Prize

Tim Parks wrote recently in the New York Review of Books that the social value of a novel is the conversation it can start. He went on to point out how hard it is today to start a conversation when we all read so disparately. But people do read prize-winners. It’s a moment when you can get them on the same page.

Consisting of two sections, How To Be Both has been printed in two different ways and as such offers two distinct reading experiences. One version (the one I read) opens with the narrative of the fifteenth-century renaissance fresco painter Francesco del Cossa. In the version my colleague Bronte (who wrote our wonderful review) read, the book opened with the story of the fifteen-year-old George, whose mother has just died. Bronte suggests that reading the narratives how she did made it seem as though Francesco was born of George’s imagination, whereas I had found myself baked under the harsh sun of Francesco’s Italy, mixing paints from bird bones and crushed eggshells, before being wrenched into the modern world, into the grief of George.

In this book, Ali Smith is playing with form, exploring the boundaries of the novel not simply for sake of the writer, but for the experience of the reader. To be able to join a conversation in which you read the same novel in a different order, where primacy has been given to one narrator and it has defined the story in a way that can be clearly seen, is a fantastic chance to delve into what makes story. What is a prize for, but to encourage reading, to acknowledge the importance but also the joy of reading, and to make it a shared experience?

This is the chance to share an experience that is different in form if not content.

Marie Matteson is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

How to be Both

How to be Both

Ali Smith

$22.99Buy now

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