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How to be Both: A novel

How to be Both: A novel

Scritto da Ali Smith

Narrato da John Banks


How to be Both: A novel

Scritto da Ali Smith

Narrato da John Banks

valutazioni:
4/5 (17 valutazioni)
Lunghezza:
8 ore
Pubblicato:
Jan 16, 2015
ISBN:
9781490672533
Formato:
Audiolibro

Descrizione

How to be both is the dazzling new novel by Ali Smith. It is longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2014. Passionate, compassionate, vitally inventive and scrupulously playful, Ali Smith's novels are like nothing else. 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.
A NOTE TO THE READER:
Who says stories reach everybody in the same order?
This novel can be read in two ways, and the audiobook provides you with both. You can choose which way to read the novel by simply clicking on one of two parts—CAMERA or EYES. The text is exactly the same in both versions; the narratives are just in a different order.
The audiobook is produced this way so that readers can randomly have different experiences reading the same text. So, depending on which part you select, the book will read: EYES, CAMERA, or CAMERA, EYES. (Your friend may be reading it the other way around.) Enjoy the adventure.
Pubblicato:
Jan 16, 2015
ISBN:
9781490672533
Formato:
Audiolibro


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Recensioni dei lettori

  • (2/5)
    It’s probably time to accept I just don’t get on with Smith’s novels. Admittedly, I’ve only read two, but I can’t say I enjoyed either. Which is odd, because you would think her style would appeal to me. It’s copiously-researched, often turns on little known history, is written present-tense and without speech marks for dialogue… but it’s also often – at least in those books I’ve read – pretty close to stream-of-consciousness and that’s never a style I could deal with at length. It doesn’t help that the actual plot of How to be Both is wilfully obscure. I mean, yes, I grew up on genre fiction, and it privileges plot, but I like literary fiction, and that privileges, well, any number of things but plot is rarely one of them. I’ve not had the training to be fully appreciative of Smith’s fiction, even though I’ve read any number of literary authors and appreciated what they’ve tried to achieve. I suspect this will be the last novel by Smith I’ll read. She’s just not for me.
  • (4/5)
    This was the book that had, as its USP the fact that it was two stories, half of which were presented with Francesco first, the other half with Georgia first. Francesco is an artist from the middle ages and appears in conciousness as a watching spirit (for want of a better word) that comes into being with a girl looking at one of his paintings that hangs in the National Gallery. He tries to put his current existence into perspective, while relating his past life and the painting of a particular fresco in Ferrara. In the present, Georgia is dealing with the death of her mother and in her recent past is a trip to Ferrara to see the fresco painted by Francesco. There's a lot going on in here, in each story there is a case of uncertain gender and/or sexuality. It is integral to both stories. In Francesco's case, so little is known that the possibility that this was a woman in a man's world may be fiction, but cannot be disounted. The evocation of grief as a teenager is haunting, as is the gradual emergence back into life. The book is very visual, with Francesco's paintings and Georgia's photomontages both being essential components. The image on the fornt cover of the 2 french singers is described on more than occasion. The visual descriptions are not incidental to the story and this meshing of the visual description within the written story is very effective. I enjoyed the first half slightly more than the second. There are a great many links between the two sections, which made this a whole book, when it could easily have appeared as two disparate halves.
  • (4/5)
    8. How to Be Both by Ali Smithreader: John Bankspublished: 2014format: 8:29 audible audiobook (~235 pages equivalent, 372 pages in hardcover)acquired: Januarylistened: Jan 15-31rating: 4The audiobook explains that in print the two sections of this book come in alternate orders, the buyer unaware until they open it, but in audio it always opens with George, an adolescent girl stuck in the car with her mother to go see a painting. This was actually my first introduction to Ali Smith, even if I finished it second, so what struck me, as a first impression, is that Smith is being clever, everywhere, always, and it gives the whole book a playful feel that makes it both very thought-provoking and very entertaining to read. That's good, because I never really got what she was doing here...I didn't mind though. (Since I own it, I might listen to it again.)In any case, George is relayed to us in third person, thinking in flashbacks on her recently deceased mother, while in the present explaining to her grief counselor in school that she thinks she is doing OK because she doesn't really feel anything. Francesco del Cossa will narrate the the other part (second part here) as a disembodied voice that has come out of his own painting and finds itself somehow tied to George. The voice assumes it's in purgatory, amused on this world of it, and begins to think back on its own life. As it goes, George will see the lovely painter's famous hall of months (c1470) in Italy, but she will never be aware she is also being seen. A lot of layers of play, a close look at visual arts, pictures and seeing, and a decent introduction to Ali Smith.
  • (4/5)
    Took a bit of getting used to, but once I was in, I was hooked. I had a copy with George's narrative first, and I have to say I'm glad I did - I'm not sure I would have cottoned onto what was happening if I'd had the other variety. I particularly enjoyed the visual and audio elements: I found myself Googling images and songs throughout. Likewise, I found that I had to read some bits out loud a time or two, to capture the lyrical rhythms of Smith's writings.
  • (5/5)
    I thoroughly enjoyed this book, although I'm hard pressed to describe what made it such a great read for me. How to be Both is actually two novellas, one about a modern day girl named George, who recently lost her mother, and the other about a Renaissance painter named Francesco del Cossa. The reading experience is strongly influenced by a random act: some editions begin with George's story; some with Francesco's (and eBooks have both versions, so the reader can choose). My copy began with George, on New Year's Eve just a few months after her mother's death. George is bereft, her grief is palpable, and yet she is also precocious and funny in relating events of the day, and in retelling experiences shared with her mother, most notably a trip to Italy where they saw one of Francesco's most notable works. And then suddenly I was in the other story -- Francesco's -- and moving seamlessly from the Renaissance period to the present day. Where George's story is written in a fairly straightforward narrative, Francesco's is stream of consciousness, and sometimes a bit like poetry. There are numerous connections between the two novellas, some of which are only alluded to and I'm still trying to piece together. And there are more obvious themes about duality, especially regarding gender and sexual identity.It's tempting now to re-read George's story to pick up new details. But instead I find myself holding it in my imagination, savoring what I've just read, and leaving details suspended forever somehow seems just right. So. Like I said, I'm hard pressed to describe what made this such a great read. Just give it a try, and see what you think.
  • (2/5)
    How to be Both by Ali Smith; (1 1/2*)I will give this one 1 1/2 stars for originality. How to be Both perhaps put more words on the written page that seemed to be there for the benefit of the author's psyche than for the/this reader but talk about strange................ This book felt & read so strangely for me.I know a lot of readers thrilled to this book and indeed at the beginning it comes off charming and fresh but it quickly became overly wordy and boring. I can see what would draw some readers in but I was not one of them. The duel nature of the novel could have been fascinating but I didn't find it so in this case though I can understand how some would love it. For me, it was a waste of my precious reading time.
  • (5/5)
    Ali Smith is becoming something of a national treasure, and this is one of her best books yet. I must admit that I had doubts about what I'd read of the concept (two interlinked stories that can be read either way round), but the writing is too strong to be constrained by the structure. In my copy, the modern section comes first - this story of a grieving teenager learning about her mother via art and her interest in a 15th century Italian artist. This is familiar territory for Smith, who is very strong on young people and their quirky views on the world. The other half is a bolder departure, imagining the artist as a sort of spirit able to reminisce about the past while observing the modern world, and particularly the girl. Sexual ambiguity is a recurring theme - the artist turns out to be woman masquerading as a man, which made the book very interesting to read just after reading Siri Hustvedt's "The Blazing world". Both parts are full of dazzling language, ideas, playfulness and observation.
  • (4/5)
    Ali Smith plays with the novel form. The first part is a stream-of-consciousness of a Renaissance artist, detailing the subject matter of her/his paintings, that prompted me to google the paintings to see for myself what was described, and to discover Smith was inventing the female painter dressing up to be male part. The second section is concerned with a teenage girl mourning her mother and recalling her mother's obsession with the paintings.A self-consciously clever novel, mirroring life - no tidy beginning or end, with the past always intruding on the present, constantly being reinvented.
  • (5/5)
    A young girl on the cusp of womanhood, struggling to continue after the sudden loss of her mother, and a long-dead Renaissance painter known only to history through a letter demanding more pay, are the catalysts to consider what is and what was, what is art, what is underneath and what remains, in Ali Smith's How to be Both.The novel, which was listed for the Man Booker Prize and won the Costa, was designed to not be linear, but to be layered. Some editions begin with Georgie, grieving for her talented, daring mother in present-day London. The other editions begin with the story of Francesco, child of a bricklayer whose mother also excelled at storytelling.The last trip Georgie took with her mother and younger brother (while the always-distant dad stayed home for work) was to view Francesco's frescoes in Italy. Past and present, present and future, layers of what exists and what can be seen and what stays hidden are the essence of the novel. Georgie remembers events that once happened and has to keep changing the tense, from says to said, life to not life, from living to dead.The word play, the tropes of tense, of layers, of hiding in plain sight or there being more just underneath the surface, serve to showcase "oh!" moments. Georgie, for example, is originally called George in the story but is a girl who identifies as a girl and does not like the fact she was named for a character in an old film (1966's Georgy Girl). Who another character is in other times and forms is a puzzle; although, like any well-designed painting that tells its story in allegory form, the clues are hiding in plain sight.Although it is noted early in Georgie's section that "People like things not to be too meaningful", Smith knows better. Georgie becomes obsessed with a video of a young girl being used sexually and watches it over and over and over again. The girl, she decides, is everywhere, a representation of harm being done over and over again. To Georgie, watching it is paying tribute to the fact it has happened but, for someone who has not seen it, the act has not happened because that person doesn't know the act exists. It happens for the first time for that person when that person does see it.In Italy with her mother, studying the frescoed walls that Francesco painted centuries earlier, it is noted the part of the work shows "how ordinary cruelty really is". The work was hidden for years under whitewash, meaning it did not exist for the people who knew about the room but did not know what was under the whitewash. That bothers George's younger brother enormously: "Could the room you were actually in get -- lost?"Georgie does not want her mother to be forgotten because she is no longer there, just as the frescoes were forgotten because they were no longer seen. And the painter has been completely forgotten except for a letter in which more money is asked of the patron because of it is deserved (a letter which really does exist).On that Italian trip, Georgie's mother sets these ideas into her head:Do things just go away? her mother says. Do things that happened not exist, or stop existing, just because we can't see them happening in front of us? They do when they're over, George says. And what about the things we watch happening ... "Well, what about them? Who sees them and how they see them and what the viewers bring to what they see to combine that knowledge with what is in front of them, well, it's never the same, is it?What was there and what is there are part of something else Georgie's mother did: She was part of a group called the Subverts who delighted in subliminal and unexpected messages, such as "a box that would flash up on a politics page and it would have a picture in it or some stanzas of a poem, stuff like that".Georgie's mother also tells her that "nothing's not connected" and therein lies the harsh truth and glorious beauty in Smith's novel. The struggle, as usual, is for us to take E.M. Forster's advice: "Only connect" even if it all seems a swirl at times and the way the pieces fall together doesn't seem at all clear.Francesco's mother creates a different spin on the connections among all things. To her, anything created creates a ring, a ripple, just as a pebble dropped in water creates its rings. To that wife of a Renaissance bricklayer, the ring encompasses everything. And if everything is encompassed, it is contained together. It is connected.And so it is in this novel. Whether one reads Georgie's story first or Francesco's, parts of the painter's story are prelude to Georgie's and parts of it reverberate in the present.In the spirit of Smith's novel, it does not matter which part one reads first. Because they fit together.
  • (5/5)
    Ali Smith is perhaps the most successful experimental writer publishing today. Not one to rest on her laurels, she tries something new in each successive novel. Smith takes another creative leap in How to Be Both, this time in terms of form and in playing with ideas about simultanaeity and flexibility. She writes two stories here, one that of a minor Italian Renaissance painter named Franchesco, the other centered around George, a 16-year old girl dealing with the loss of her mother in the 21st century. Despite the difference in time periods, the two seem somehow to coexist: Franchesco looks out from his own painting, hanging in a London museum, to see George looking; and George develops a strange sense of recognition with the artist, whose work she had first seen while traveling in Italy with her mother. The linked stories create a complexity that is hard to describe or summarize. It's something that the reader lives and feels while immersed in the book rather than intellectualizing it. In a way, the symbiosis between George and Franchesco helps the former to transcend the boundaries of time and space, bringing her mother close again, while George gives Franchesco an understanding of the timelessness of art and another way of seeing.This review probably doesn't seem to say much that is concrete; as I said, How to Be Both--both Franchesco and George, both then and now, both male and female, both alive and dead, both here and there--is a book to be experienced as well as read. Lovely writing for each distinct character's voice, a creative and philosophical stretch that offers not only pleasure but hope.
  • (4/5)
    On my first try to read this book, I read Part 1 and couldn't quite get hold of it. Then someone suggested that I should have read Part 2 first , about the Italian Renaissance painter, Franchesco, a girl who had to pose as a boy to be accepted as an artist. I followed this advice, reading Part 2 and then Part !. By doing this, George's teenage life in the 21st century and it's parallels with Franchesco seemed to fall into place and I found this to be a great read.I loved the main female character in Part 1 and in Part 2, they had such individuality and were not afraid to be different. George was particularly likeable especially in the way she coped with the grief on losing her Mother, and virtually took over the care of her little brother.Ali Smith is a beautiful writer and this is a thoroughly enjoyable book., but my advice is READ PART 2 FIRST.
  • (4/5)
    This is another wonderfully light, clever and charming novel that tricks you into thinking it a lot less profound and serious than it really is. Smith seems to be rubbing away at the boundaries we use to define dualities like life/death, masculine/feminine, now/then, here/there, gay/straight, etc., and reminding us that what looks absolute in the physical world needn't be quite so well-defined in the way we perceive the world imaginatively. The famous gimmick of the book, of course, was that the narrative came in two parts, one from the point of view of George, a modern teenage girl grieving for her dead mother, and the other from that of the long-dead and almost forgotten 15th century Bolognese painter, Francesco del Cossa. Half the copies (including the one I read) were printed with George first, the other half with Francesco first, and it was pure chance which you got. Fun, but an odd sort of experiment, because unless you buy multiple copies or read a review, you won't even know that it's going on...It's a very visual book, referring frequently and in detail to images - not just Francesco's paintings, but also posters and photographs, including the iconic picture of the 60s French singers Françoise Hardy and Sylvie Vartan (by Jean-Marie Périer) that is on the front cover. For other images mentioned in the text, you're going to have to do some Googling, and I think that's also part of the experimental nature of the book (in the George narrative, Smith helpfully tells us some of the search keywords we need to use). But there's also a lot of linguistic play going on, and plenty of literary allusion too, including a number of indirect references to Giorgio Bassani's novels set in Ferrara and Bologna. Another famous son of Ferrara, the film director Michelangelo Antonioni, also gets a few mentions. Not a book that allows you to doze off!I was particularly impressed by how convincing I found Smith's portrayal of George - it would be interesting to know whether a modern teenager would be equally convinced, of course! But the key thing obviously isn't that she's tuned into the way kids of the smartphone generation think, but rather that she's so in touch with what it felt like to be an adolescent herself that she can map that experience onto a contemporary setting without us ever noticing that there was any trickery involved. Obviously, with Francesco she doesn't have the same difficulties, since no-one has set a standard for how dead 15th-century painters should talk when they find themselves observing modern Britain (the only book I recall that uses a similar narrative trick is Margaret Drabble's The Red Queen, and Korean royals are not at all the same thing as Italian painters...).
  • (4/5)
    It's hard to put my finger on what makes this novel enjoyable. A contender for the Booker Prize, How to be both is, not surprisingly, a very literary read. The writing style is largely stream of consciousness, and though it is done well, this usually turns me off. The characters are well drawn, but not amazing or unforgettable. The language has its highs and lows. The stories—plural because there are essentially two stories here—are entertaining, but not riveting; they unveil themselves slowly and are largely character driven. And while all of that may sound dry to some readers, I anticipated further reading from the moment I first cracked open the book until I reached its conclusion.Although both halves were gratifying in their own way, the first half seemed fuller in story. I say “the first half,” but as I've heard the two halves were switched in some copies of the novel, perhaps it is better to say the half which focused on Francesco. I wonder what my experience would've been had I read George's section first, as some readers have. And though I didn't fall madly in love with this novel, I did want to reread Francesco's section after George's, this before I'd even learned many copies were published this way. I'm not one to reread books, especially immediately after finishing one, but I do have a strange impulse to reread this one. Perhaps that urge is what makes How to be both so enjoyable. There's something about the two halves mirroring one another yet being so distinct that invites further study. We're drawn to symmetry, are we not? Like I said, it's difficult to put my finger on it.Although I thoroughly enjoyed Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road to the Deep North, the Man Booker winner for 2014, I would not have been disappointed had How to be both claimed the prize. The Narrow Road... was a well-written, tragic tale, a suitable, more accessible winner; How to be both would likely not have reached as many readers with its literary devices, but it surely would have lived on as a worthy victor had it taken home the prize. Regardless of outcome, I look forward to reading more from the very clever Ali Smith.
  • (5/5)
    Like her previous work Artful, How to Be Both is to some extent about art — making art and viewing art (and surely we could extend that to reading art). Ali Smith has always seemed like an heir to Virginia Woolf. But here she also seems like a visual artist. Her materials are words, not paint, but she works like a Jackson Pollock of words. She uses ordinary materials (in her case the most casual language) and she experiments with form, happily bends the tried and true form, reshapes it and challenges it.The language that matters to her is not the literary but the everyday -- the slang, the new words, the popular songs of different eras, even the conflict between proper grammar and customary usage. She plays with it, using it to draw or outline the characters and their world. Sometimes she physically arranges words like drawing on the page, as when sentence fragments run like lines of poetry across a page or two. Parenthetical phrases like “(ouch)” are visual, too, like a pictograph in effect. Of course drawing and writing are tangled up in our language: a line is not just a pencil stroke depicting the curve of a horse’s hind quarter, but also a line of text. And the final product of lines can be a drawing or a book. Or both.But How to Be Both, while a book, is not a storybook. At least, not as we usually encounter those. It’s stories, intertwined — one under the other under the other. As if it’s a fresco. It’s stories assembled, broken and rebuilt. As if it’s a wall. It’s connections no one sees, to things unremembered or unremarked, and an accumulation of memory and forgetting. Like a life, or lives. It’s history and modern life. It’s art. And more. I’m leaving out so much: it touches on gender, motherhood, daughterhood, and so much more. This book is a whole world.And what kind of artist is Ali Smith? I think she hopes to make people see more carefully, more respectfully. And perhaps people who see (and see others) better will become better people. That seems the way out of the labyrinth, the way to survive the Minotaur. Not with the unseeing, uncaring mechanical surveillance of the powerful, but with the careful and human attention required of the small and powerless.She herself focuses mostly on the overlooked, the unseen, the forgotten: the little known fresco artist from the 15th Century, the slave wearing tattered clothes, the underage girl in a porn film, the girl who gave Theseus the thread to find his way out. She wants us to see them, too. She wants justice, but her justice is artistic. “Attention must be paid.” And a silent, deliberate witnessing (or a bearing witness to) can be justice enough. Alliances between individuals make a little change for the better, a little shelter from the rain, and sometimes love.I hope that this remarkable book brings her work the attention it deserves.
  • (4/5)
    "...and how to tell a story, but tell it more than one way at once, and tell another underneath it up-rising through the skin of it) –"

    This book is a complete and utter but strangely beautiful mess - at least structurally. But then there are different editions to this book and depending on which edition you picked up, it either starts with the story of George or the story of Francescho.

    No matter which one it starts with, both stories are intertwined and both stories - though very different - toy with the idea of how opposing concepts can be combined.

    Luckily, my journey started with George. Luckily, because Smith's ambitious project would have confused me even more than it already did if the story had begun with Francescho's story and had lacked the introduction to the concept o duality that is introduced by George's dialogue with her mother.

    "Past or present? George says. Male or female? It can’t be both. It must be one or the other. Who says? Why must it? her mother says."
  • (4/5)
    Depending on which published version of How to be both you’ve got, you may have either the 15th century story first or the 21st century story. The version I read began with the 15th century story of the renaissance painter Francesco del Cossa. As almost nothing is known about del Cossa, Smith is free to invent. She invents a brilliant and instructive mother for Francesco. She embellishes our knowledge that Francesco’s father was a mason, adding insight and tenderness and daring. But most inventive of all is that Smith’s Francesco is actually a girl/woman masquerading as a boy/man in order to pursue the talent for drawing and painting that so forcefully displays itself in her/his infancy. There are intrigues and friendships and recognition scenes enough to hold our interest and there is, moreover, a great deal of Francesco’s inner monologue about art, all of which is fascinating. Smith deploy’s a style here reminiscent of that she used in Girl Meets Boy — a lyrical tone, almost fable-like scenes, and iteration after iteration of indeterminacies. Boy or girl or both. Alive or dead or both. The latter is important in the artifice Smith employs to force a connection between the 15th century story and the 21st century story. On which, more anon.The second half of the book I read was a story set in the present. It follows about six months in the life of 16 year old Georgia, sometimes called Georgie, but more often called George. George is a precocious teen living in Cambridge, with excessive verbal skills and a sardonic wit well-nurtured by her mother, Carol. George’s mother is an academic, a writer, a subversive artist, a target for government spies perhaps, and a great new enthusiast for some frescos painted by Francesco del Cossa. She is also dead. And George, Georgie, Georgia is going through however many stages of mourning it takes to resurface after her mother’s death. George is full of reminiscences of their time together, but especially of the past summer when her mother took her and her younger brother, Henry, to Italy to see the del Cossa frescos. Smith writes teenage girls so convincingly, so intelligently, that everything here is completely believable and completely unanticipated. Georgia comes to life. She has a burgeoning friendship with Helena which might be something more but doesn’t get fully developed before the story reaches a natural conclusion.Both stories are beautifully written but I confess that I much preferred the 21st century story of George. Partly that is because there was less need for artifice in linking George’s story to something in Francesco del Cossa’s. The frescos and the one painting in the National Gallery more than serve that purpose. By contrast, Smith needs to turn Francesco into some kind of purgatorial spirit in order for him/her to witness a few events in the life Georgia. There is no way for this not to feel clunky.What I like best about Smith’s writing here and elsewhere is that she challenges her readers to think, to use the novel as a crucible for ideas, whether these are socio-political or philosophical. I like the fact that Smith takes risks. And I don’t always find that she succeeds, especially when, as here, she is pushing a particular metaphysical line. But, equally, I don’t find that my philosophical disagreement with a point she is elaborating diminishes at all my admiration for her writing or my keen desire to read whatever else she may write. That’s unusual. And so despite some reservations on the architecture of this doubled novel and a more particular disagreement about the philosophical position she advances, I find that I want to heartily recommend this book. And who knows, perhaps if your printed version is the other way round, maybe even the architecture linking the two stories might work better for you than it has for me. Recommended.
  • (4/5)
    But which came first? Her mother says. The chicken or the egg? The picture underneath or the picture on the surface? The picture below came first, George says. Because it was done first.But the first thing we see, her mother said, and most times the only thing we see, is the one on the surface. So does that mean it comes first after all? And does that mean the other picture, if we don't know about it, may as well not exist?The structure of this novel plays with this idea – which part comes first? There are two sections to the novel, Eyes and Camera, and the print edition was issued with the sections in two different orders. The ebook edition contains both versions of the novel, and I chose to read it in the order Camera – Eyes. In one sense, the events of Eyes take place before the events of Camera, but in another sense, Eyes takes place after Camera. It's the old chicken and egg question in novel format. The author and publisher say that the novel works equally well in either order. I'm not convinced of that. I think most readers will find Eyes easier to understand if they've read Camera first. What Smith has done with this novel is impressive, but I never became absorbed enough in the writing to lose awareness of its mechanics. So, my verdict is good but not great.
  • (5/5)
    It is an infinite loop. A book of mirrors. There are many kinds of both, inside the stories, outside the stories but in the book, over and over, back and forth. Like looking in a mirror of a mirror, to see endless reflection.

    The words line up one after the other, but they also reach out, silently, to pair up and mirror and reflect upon themselves across time, thereby bridging it.

    Time merges. The book somehow begins to escape time, to transcend it, to weave a fabric.
    ”Past or present? George says. Male or female? It can’t be both. It must be one or the other.
    Who says? Why must it? Her mother says.”This is my pick for the Booker winner.