Book Club / People

Zadie Smith’s new ‘Intimations’ was written in isolation

Zadie Smith Intimations

It's one of many questions that have surfaced in the first half of this year: what does Zadie Smith think?

The writer of White Teeth, On Beauty and Changing My Mind has a way of crystallising thoughts, feelings and assumptions you perhaps didn't even know you possessed, while only intending to speak for her own. (Or so she has said.)

So in this year (so far) that has changed the ways we see our worlds and drawn analyses from myriad angles, many of her readers - myself included - have wondered, what is Smith's?

Her new book of essays, Intimations, provides somewhat of answer.

"There will be many books written about the year 2020: historical, analytical, political as well as comprehensive accounts," Smith writes in the foreword to Intimations.

"This is not any of those – the year isn’t halfway done. What I’ve tried to do is organise 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."

Unlike many public intellectuals, Smith is not on Instagram or Twitter, meaning we must wait for published articles, volumes, or the occasional talk - to gain access to her thoughts. It's kind of unusual, these days, when you think about it. It's also fairly uncommon to find a book that responds so instantaneously to the times at hand. But right about now it still seems to me a welcome respite from the siphon of social media. At the very least a chance to reflect without the buzzing of digitally incurred stress or distraction.

As for Smith, she turned to Marcus Aurelius's notes on stoic philosophy, immortalised in the book Meditations, at the beginning of the Coronavirus crisis. "Since that moment, one form of crisis has collided with another, and I am no more a Stoic now than I was when I opened that ancient book," she notes at the opening of her new collection of essays. "But I did come out with two invaluable intimations. Talking to yourself can be useful. And writing means being overheard."

And aren't we grateful for the opportunity to listen in.

Intimations is out now via Penguin Books.


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