How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti - review by Hannah Rosefield

Hannah Rosefield

Sheila’s Friends

How Should a Person Be?

By

Harvill Secker 306pp £16.99 order from our bookshop
 

Sheila, the narrator of Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be?, is writing a play. The play has been commissioned by a feminist theatre company, and it has to be about women. This is a problem for the newly divorced Sheila who, for the entirety of her marriage, was concerned ‘only with men – my husband in particular’. Her artistic struggles overlap with her lifelong quest to discover how a person should be; how she, Sheila, should be. Should she aspire to celebrity? Or genius? Should she be ‘consistent, wise, loving and true’? Or would she be better off directing her energies elsewhere? ‘We live in an age of some really great blow-job artists,’ she reflects. ‘Every era has its art form. The nineteenth century, I know, was tops for the novel.’

Sheila, a writer in her late twenties or early thirties living in Toronto, is a version of Heti; her friends are versions of Heti’s friends, in particular the artists Margaux Williamson and Sholem Krishtalka, and the performer and teacher Misha Glouberman. The emails that Sheila reproduces in the novel are

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