Intimations (Penguin General UK, 2020) is a quick read, but a deep one, bound to dredge up some feelings about 2020 you might have consciously or subconsciously buried, perhaps in a conscious or subconscious effort to avoid 2020 itself.
The essays in this pocket-sized book speak of items and ideas that carry so much more weight now than the words themselves: face masks, banana bread, essential workers, lockdown, lies, healthcare inequality, the no-boundaries reality of working from home, unreachable tulips in a gated public garden, the expected burden of having to pass time, the emptiness of New York’s Broadway in Spring, a policeman’s foot on a black man’s neck.
You could read Intimations from cover to cover in an hour, but it takes significantly longer to escape the undertow of Zadie Smith’s anxiety, her prose perfectly encapsulating the global sense of unanchored unease – the fierce currents and inescapable doldrums of this unprecedented year. And yet, there is some catharsis in reading something that so keenly reveals just how much has happened, even as the world has seemed to tread water, adrift in a motionless sea of time.
Perhaps it’s the astonishingly rapid publishing turnaround – after all, we are still living in the paused, pandemic-ridden world Smith writes about – but at times reading Intimations feels like reading about something that happened ages ago, even though its circumstances remain our present. Those feelings, like Smith’s Intimations, are about as 2020 as it gets.