Intimations, Zadie Smith


I am awed by Zadie Smith’s wit, and also by the revelation that she never, ever - never! - relaxes, as she writes in her brief and wonderful collection of lockdown essays, Intimations. She is so allergic to relaxing that even when she permits herself half-hour massages to deal with the back and neck issues of someone mostly crouched over keyboards, she not only reads during these sessions but also marks work.

I am so attached to the need to seek quiet, solace, isolation and relaxation, and by extension believe that everyone would benefit from these things, that I find it hard to believe this constant tension, of days bundled up into compact parcels of minutes so not a single one is lost, of always being plugged in to something, can be a good thing. But who am I to question Zadie’s method? Her productivity is immense, her creativity gushing, her writing thoughtful, precise, funny, purposeful, necessary, real.

With Intimations she got the lockdown vibe spot on. The essays are short and penetrating, ranging from Peonies, the joy of middle-aged women at the sight of flowers blooming in a small park, to The American Exception, which deals with the current president and America’s decision to have its citizens pay for healthcare, to Suffering Like Mel Gibson, about pain and privilege. 

As a postscript, she discusses the idea of contempt with the energy of a virus, spread down through society from governments and authorities. She had the idea it could therefore be wiped out, that we could achieve some sort of herd immunity from all the hatred. She doesn’t think this anymore.

Intimations (Penguin, £5.99) is a tiny book so you’ve definitely space for it on your shelves