I was completely disappointed by this tiny piece of writing made up of 6 essays by Zadie Smith. Maybe it was because I’ve been meaning and wanting to read something by the author for such a long time, having built up too high expectations. Maybe because this isn’t the right book to start with if you’re curious about diving into something of Smith’s for the very first time. Or maybe just because this book really isn’t that great. The only reason why I’m not settling on a 1/5 ★ rating, is because I’ve read quite a few other books that were much worse that this one this year. Here, there still were parts that I highlighted, which I enjoyed re-reading and which were expressed in a unique kind of way.
“Death comes to all – but in America it has long been considered reasonable to offer the best chance of delay to the highest bidder.” (p. 15)
While the book is just 82 pages long and could be read in a couple of hours, I got stuck on it for 5 days, simply because I wasn’t motivated to pick it up. It is marketed as a piece of writing freshly coming out of the experiences around the 2020 global COVID-19 pandemic. Whereas there are some references to the pandemic itself in a couple of the essays, it feels much more like random ramblings on a bunch of subjects that are hardly even loosely tied together. Every now and then though, a meaningful passage does pop up and catches your attention, the quotes below giving some examples:
“It happens that the day I was drawn to those tulips was a few days before the global humbling began – one that arrived equally for men and women both […].” (p. 6)
“I used to think that there would one day be a vaccine [against racism]: that if enough black people named the virus, explained it, demonstrated how it operates, videoed its effects, protested it peacefully, revealed how widespread it really is, how the symptoms arise, how so many Americans keep giving it to each other, irresponsibly and shamefully, generation after generation, causing intolerable and unending damage both to individual bodies and to the body politic – I thought if that knowledge becomes as widespread as could possibly be managed or imagined we might finally reach some kind of herd immunity. I don’t think that anymore.” (p. 70)
Out of the total of 6 essays, the first 4 have spoken to me more. For the rest of them – the fifth one was made up of seven mini-essays within the actual essay. These were quite difficult to follow, because they were just all over the place with their reflections. The sixth and last one can’t even be classified as an essay in my opinion, since it’s just a list of random names & attributes to them. Even though the general impression is extremely underwhelming, there are those few passages which are raw, vulnerable and globally relatable:
“Married men are confronted with the infinite reality of their wives, who cannot now be exchanged, even mentally, for a strange girl walking down the street. Her face, her face, her face. Your face, your face, your face. The only relief is two faces facing forward, towards the screen. […] Young people hunger for the touch of strangers – of anyone. Club kids go to bed at nine. […] The widower enters a second widowhood.” (p. 30)
I guess one of the few good parts about the book is the fact that all the author’s royalties will go to charity, so even if you didn’t necessarily enjoy “Intimations”, some kind of a useful contribution is made with its purchase. The book generally reads like a scramble of jagged diary entries, like a stream of consciousness and like a product that has been created simply in order to do something, as the author mentions it herself within the text. If you have been eyeing Zadie’s writing, I would suggest you to skip this one though and go for one of her other books instead.
“Watching this manic desire to make or grow or do ‘something’, that now seems to be consuming everybody, I do feel comforted to discover I’m not the only person on this earth who has no idea what life is for, nor what is to be done with all this time aside from filling it.” (p. 26)
Edition: ISBN 978-0-241-49238-3
Penguin Books, 2020