Intimations: Six essays
by Zadie Smith
Penguin, $12.99 pb, 96 pp
On the July afternoon when I first read Intimations, novelist and prolific essayist Zadie Smith’s new book of essays, Melbourne registered its highest number of Covid-19 cases – 484 positives, with two deaths. Since then the daily tolls have risen alarmingly. Midway through the city’s second week of Lockdown 2.0, there is a nebulous feeling of dispiritedness. We mark time as belonging to a pre-Covid era or the present reality. Within the present there exist further subdivisions of pasts and presents marked by social distancing, mandatory mask-wearing, hopefulness.
Even in Melbourne, we are more likely than not to be thankful that we are not living in the United States or the United Kingdom or India or Brazil. In ‘The American Exception’, the collection’s sole formerly published essay (in which Smith succeeds in writing of the current US president without naming him – a quiet act of thumbing her nose), she laments, ‘we are great with death – we are mighty with it’. The collision of this ‘global humbling’ with another global watershed moment, the proliferation of the Black Lives Matter protest movement in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, is not coincidental. The world is ruptured and porous. Natalia Ginzburg’s Vincenzino seems to be talking directly to us as he pronounces happiness to be ‘like water; one only realises it when it has run away’ (Voices in the Evening, 1961).