THE PLOT: Intimations by Zadie Smith is a collection of essays written in the early months of lockdown. A response to the global Covid-19 crisis, she explores her feelings prompted by the pandemic and touches on Black Lives Matter.
RATING: Prepare yourself to be shocked but I’m only giving this book three and a half stars! I’m a massive Zadie Smith fan and this rating has no bearing on her novels – they’re five stars all round– but these essays were just OK. In all fairness, I’m not generally a reader of essay collections but this failed to change my mind about them. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good book and it’s short and easy to read, but it didn’t set my world on fire.
GOOD BITS: My favourite essays were ‘Something To Do’ and ‘Suffering Like Mel Gibson’. The former explores how we all tried to fill our time during the early period when lots of people were on furlough and we couldn’t go out. This is related to the life of artists, most of whom are freelance, and the worthiness of pursuing art for art’s sake. The latter is about relative suffering and how we should each be compassionate for others’ situations. I also liked ‘Contempt as Virus’, which looks at poverty and Black Lives Matter.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: The ‘Screengrabs’ were really interesting quick portraits of characters – some of which I loved – but as a collection I felt they were underwhelming. Overall, I think this reflects my problem with this book. There’s not enough of a narrative or theme tying it all together. Each essay is OK, and somewhat insightful, but it’s not the ‘wow’ I have come to expect from Zadie. I guess, without a common theme or thread, I’m left wondering what she’s really trying to say.
OVERALL: A very short book of very short essays, I read it in one sitting and would recommend it to those reflecting on the clusterfuck of 2020. However, I think so much will be written on this subject that this book won’t stand the test of time as the defining work of this period (which it could’ve been). To be honest, I think it was rushed out by the publisher and, ironically when we’ve all been in isolation for months, could’ve benefitted from more reflection and time.