A thoroughly deep and soul-searching set of timely essays on the lockdown experience, Zadie Smith’s Intimations are precisely that, with an observational and astute tone to the work. From the critically acclaimed author of Feel Free, Swing Time, White Teeth, Intimations is a wonderfully short 82 pages that consider many aspects of lockdown, reaching far beyond the surface with these deliberations.
Zadie herself modestly stated, ‘There will be many books written about the year 2020: historical, analytic, political and comprehensive accounts. This is not any of those. What I’ve tried to do is organise some of the feelings and thoughts that events, so far, have provoked in me, in those scraps of time the year itself has allowed. These are, above all, personal essays: small by definition, short by necessity.
Early on in the crisis, I picked up Marcus Aurelius and for the first time in my life read his Meditations not as an academic exercise, nor in pursuit of pleasure, but with the same attitude I bring to the instructions for a flat-pack table – I was in need of practical assistance. I am no more a Stoic now than I was when I opened that ancient book, but I did come out with two invaluable intimations. Talking to yourself can be useful. And writing means being overheard.’
Crafted with an intellect and style of prose that we have come to love from Zadie Smith’s previous works, most notably Feel Free. And her focus is on those suffering from mental health as well as her more relative aspects to lockdown, like trying to get back to London to be with family. The essay though that strikes me the strongest is the one on contempt. Latching the epidemic of contempt onto the COVID epidemic, which considers the conspiracy theorists and the truth that they tell to disguise their own self-hate. Focusing on the death of George Floyd, there is a real emotive side to this intimation that speaks personally. With much to unpack within these eighty or so pages, Intimations is a tender response to these bizarre times. It only cements my fondness for Smith’s work, and ever in anticipation of the next.
Intimations is out now, published by Penguin Randomhouse