It goes without saying that 2020 is a year that will go down in history. There will be oh-so-many books written about. Memoirs, fiction and studies on the political, social and economic effect that it’s had on the world. I for one didn’t think I was ready to read about lockdown yet. It felt too raw. Plus, can we see the wood for the trees yet? Then I discovered that Zadie Smith had written her latest essay collection Intimations during lockdown. Of course, that changes everything.
Intimations – A Mini Book Review
Why a mini-review, you ask? Firstly, at less than 100 pages long this essay collection is fairly mini itself. Secondly, I fear that my words will never do Zadie Smith’s writing any justice, so I’ll keep it short and sweet.
Intimations is a collection of six essays. Each span just 6 or 7 pages each, each a perfect snapshot of a scene, a character or a feeling. Smith does not try to come to terms with lockdown. She doesn’t offer us any solutions or epiphanies. Instead, she ruminates on the personal, the people, in her usual frank and intelligent style.
The essays are mainly set in New York (where Smith lives) although some are in London too. Naturally, the scenes and people are focused on these areas but it felt like she was holding up a mirror to the world. No matter who or where we are, there are so many feelings that are universal. It gives you permission to validate your feelings during lockdown – fear, suffering, boredom – whilst challenging you to acknowledge your privileges within this. It is a reminder of the fact that we as humans are more similar than we are different.
In these essays, Smith talks about privilege, isolation, the human need of having ‘something to do’ (lockdown banana bread bakers, I’m with you), police brutality, race and community. That’s a lot for not many pages. But Zadie Smith, whose fiction I adore, is such a talented essayist that it feels incredibly natural. She writes in the way that you imagine her to think. Honest, with a sprinkle of humour, and thoughtful, she makes something that has taken over and changed our lives feel fresh.
As the title Intimations suggests, these are thoughts of what is potentially still yet to come. The world is not as it was 6 months ago, but do we want the ‘old world’ back? What will happen next? I struggle to articulate my feelings about this year so far, but luckily for all of us, Smith’s essays do it perfectly. This book is important, a timestamp for this period of the unknown that we will all want and need to reflect on. I can’t stress how much I think you should read it.