Book Review: Intimations, by Zadie Smith


Short, (not so) sweet, and to the point.

Detailing the emotions, confusion, and unsetting reality of what feels like a modern-day apocalypse, “Intimations” takes us through the beginning stages of COVID-19 – the battle we’re all still fighting.

Zadie Smith has a way with words. She can say more in two sentences than most writers can get in six. While this collection of essays may be short at just 97 pages, it’s packed with accounts, daring to hit you where it hurts because not only are the wounds still hurting, they remain open.

Smith knows exactly what this collection of stories is and how it is not exactly unique. What she writes simply stems from personal experience, but her account won’t be the only one bred from 2020. She says: “There will be many books written about the year 2020: historical, analytic, political and comprehensive accounts. This is not any of those—the year isn’t half-way done. What I’ve tried to do is organize 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.”

“Intimations” starts off with the last moment of freedom she recalls before life turned upside down. Standing behind a gate, blocked away from tulips that can’t help but to pull her and other women toward their glory, she recalls the stillness. It was the silence before the storm. The last moment she stopped to smell the flowers. While it’s an anecdote that could almost come across as mundane – even boring – in any other situation, with the world outside our bedrooms feeling like an invisible warzone, it’s symbolic.

Shifting from the personal to the universal, Smith dives into pang of schedule changes. For Americans, this aspect of modification was one of the hardest hurdles. Plagued by the requirement to work 9-5 jobs with accompanying tasks that tick like clockwork, many were left wondering, what now? Work hours adjusted if they didn’t disappear altogether. The days of longing for a break become a quick, harsh reality of nothingness. Days of commuting while screaming at incompetent drivers are of the past, and even these memories became wholesome. And the cheery dream days of being able to lay in bed all day without requirement are the present. Except these longings aren’t so sweet. For many, those daydreams have been living nightmares.

She talks about the unanimous need to feel our days with something to do. We mark happiness by productivity. And now more than ever, we try to find the meaning of life while running around our homes, from bedroom to bedroom, trying to find the next task, only to share it with the world on social media as if screaming into the void. But at least we’re screaming. At this point, being heard isn’t even the desire.

These anecdotes are just some of many that will be released in the coming years about what life was like in 2020. What’s exceptional about “Intimations” is that it skims the surface of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Much of what will likely come out in the future is solely the latter. Smith’s stories almost feel like a hug of understanding. They clear some of the clouds in your brain and make sense of some anxieties. Is it perfect? No. But is it beautiful, yet.

You can purchase “Intimations” at supporting local bookstores or on Amazon.