...intense, unsettling ... Intimacies is very much a story that seems to be something familiar but soon morphs into something disorientingly strange ... The incongruity between [the narrator's] domestic life and professional life is what makes Intimacies so fascinating ... Through parts of this story, Kitamura is exploring impossibly remote territory ... Her narrator’s experiences in the translation box raise some of the same questions as Edna O’Brien’s novel The Little Red Chairs ... But with her Jamesian attention to the slightest movement of bodies and words, Kitamura keeps Intimacies rooted to the ordinary domestic experiences of her narrator, her petty jealousies, her passing suspicions. The effect is a kind of emotional intensity that’s gripping because it feels increasingly unsustainable.
... coolly written and casts a spell. The light it emits is ghostly, like that from under the lid of a Xerox machine ... The narrator’s voice is largely bloodless. One of Kitamura’s gifts, though, is to inject every scene with a pinprick of dread. Your animal instincts as a reader — the tingling of the skin, the eagerness to pick the book back up — may be engaged before the rest of you is ... Kitamura pays attention to the dark side of urban landscapes, the things we prefer not to learn about ... All novels are, in a sense, about language, but Intimacies presses down on how meaning is made, and how it is compromised ... the real heat here, as in Kitamura’s previous novel, A Separation (2017), lies in the author’s abiding interest in the subtleties of human power dynamics ... Few novelists write so astringently about how we misread people, and are forced to refresh, as if on a web browser, our assumptions about them ... I like Intimacies — it’s certainly one of the best novels I’ve read in 2021 — without it quite being the sort of thing I like. The rapt attention it pays to the problems of glamorous, international, well-appointed people, not to go all Tea Party on the readers of this review, poked whatever class antagonisms I cling to ... You don’t sense the grit and grain of life. No one has ill-timed acne, or really can’t catch a cab. There are not many stray, stabbing insights. A film version would feature a lot of long, somber, pre-dawn drone shots of the stylish urban landscape and a thrumming score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross ... Kitamura has delivered a taut, moody novel that moves purposefully between worlds.
There is something decidedly unintimate about calling a novel Intimacies. The refusal to specify (what, whose) feels like a hedge. And yet Intimacies, by the author Katie Kitamura, achieves a kind of truth in advertising. Kitamura pursues various definitions of the word: knowledge of, closeness with, closeness to ... The result is a rich, novelistic portrait of an abstraction ... The woman’s affect is also the novel’s: haunted, unstable, and intermittently hopeful ... Intimacies is not a shallow novel, but it is, finally, a deep and layered novel about superficiality ... But the implications of the moment run deeper: in exposing the pneumatics of charm, Kitamura insists that there are motivations behind it.
Kitamura’s prose elegantly breaks grammatical convention: Commas hitch complete thoughts together, quotation marks are eschewed and ancillary characters often interrupt the narration midsentence, without punctuation. This style mirrors the book’s concern with the bleeding lines between intimacies — especially between the sincere and the coercive — while Kitamura’s immense talent smooths the seams. Even in complex court scenes when the voices of interpreters, witnesses, lawyers and judges commingle, nothing is lost in her sleek and satisfying syntax ... 'Intimate', 'intimacy' and 'intimacies' appear repeatedly in the prose, almost annoyingly so, yet synonyms are inadequate; intimacy is the structuring principle of “Intimacies” and no other word quite captures her meaning ... Reading, too, can be a deeply interpretive act, and a novel like this one offers the reader much to work with, raising a chorus of harmonic questions rather than squealing a single answer. Contemporary American novels too often deliver pre-solved moral quandaries and obvious enemies in service to our cultural craving for ethical perfection — the correct word, the right behavior, the sole and righteous position on myriad complex issues...Kitamura works outside of this trendy literality by knowing, as the best writers do, that a story’s apparent subject does not determine its conceptual limits; plot summary would do this book no justice ... deeply engaged with these grand social issues, while it also makes subtle comments on everything from art to jealousy to gentrification ... Kitamura investigates these relationships as a lens for larger points, not as an end in themselves. The path a life cuts through the world, this book seems to say, has its greatest significance in the effect it has on others ... In a time when so many intimacies have been forced or foreclosed by quarantine, this novel is felicitous. Breath itself, that intimate air, has united our worlds in death and fear. Even global events — a pandemic, a protest, a war — arise first in the delicate space between people ... contains a keen understanding of human behavior, one that reaches far beyond the pages of this brief and arresting book; she travels to places that ordinary writers cannot go.
... spellbinding ... it’s here, in these slippages, that the novel’s thrilling, ominous energy is found ... a brilliant examination of language conveyed with the kind of pacing, tautness and menace usually associated with a thriller ... The pervasive sense of threat that envelops the book is further heightened by the piercing clarity of the prose. Kitamura’s every bit as precise as her narrator, and the cool restraint of her writing — even when dealing with heightened emotional and moral stakes — is nothing short of magnificent ... is both a gripping read and a chilling consideration of what’s involved when we choose to ignore the things we don’t want to see, let alone understand
Kitamura is particularly skilled at finding moments in her narrator's social life—at a small dinner party, or in a museum gallery— when the role of interpreter is foisted upon her unwillingly; when, by virtue of her presence, she serves as the filter through which other people speak ... Kitamura takes great care in her depictions of speech and gesture, so that monstrously cruel people maintain their charisma, and intelligent people sound uncertain when they are sure. The acts of speaking, listening and understanding are given proper respect in this work; they inspire fear, amazement and awe.
A reader who has never interpreted professionally before might find the passages about the 'great chasms lying beneath words' glamorous and intriguing, but anyone who has had the pleasure will find themselves terrified by the stakes that Kitamura sets up here ... a series of disquieting moments of intimacy ... As the narrator tries to parse the meanings of intimacy in the realms of international politics and European colonialism, she also does so in her personal life, and indeed, one of the most fascinating qualities of the novel is Kitamura’s insistence that everything—from the war on terror to gentrification in the Hague to extramarital affairs—is somehow connected ... Kitamura is still writing about what it means to separate, and comes close here at times to suggesting that, given the destructiveness of human nature, there might be greater harm in proximity than distance. Yet, our narrator knows, as perhaps only an interpreter can, just how impossible it is to break things apart, to regard people and words as islands.
[Kitamura] excels at framing the fragments as fragments, allowing them to overlap without crudely forcing connections. Her characters are convincingly opaque to themselves. It is a pleasure to watch her profound moral intelligence sifting through the murk of our motivations and complicities ... This is a cerebral novel, chiefly satisfying on a conceptual, philosophical level. The brilliance of Kitamura’s mind is not matched by her prose style. Too many of her sentences sound the same, characterised by the trendy yet faintly ungrammatical comma-splice ... Perhaps the flat tone is deliberately designed to keep the reader out, as the narrator feels shut out of the city...If so, there is a price to be paid for holding the reader at such a remove. Intimacies is the kind of book that’s easy to admire, yet hard to love.
... while Kitamura’s use of tone, temporality, and narrative can be striking, the novel itself is uneven, as often landing flat-footed as finding an interesting place to stand ... Kitamura’s descriptions of interpretation are among the most compelling points of the novel, as the protagonist details how language seems to flow through her ... Intimacies is a very literary novel, which Kitamura seems to lean into, though this comes across too heavy-handed at times, bordering on affected ... Kitamura seems to set up an interesting examination on the distance between the protagonist’s perception of characters and their actuality or intent, but only in a few instances is this the case. Her judgements on the characters are correct for the most part, and more often than not presented at face value. Much of the novel follows course. Kitamura establishes many interesting ideas, but all too often fails to best leverage them ... Of course, the protagonist’s failings are interesting in their own right, but the novel all too often fails to capitalize on these moral moments, instead opting to simply note these moments, rather than placing the blow directly. There’s a lot to like here, from satisfying digressions, interesting questions, and Kitamura’s skillful use of time in the novel, but Intimacies is more slight than lasting.
... a tale that burns like dry ice ... In crystalline prose, Kitamura probes the labyrinths of language and the riddles of our humanity ... a judicious, cerebral novel, but Kitamura seasons it with dashes of glamor ... The novel’s innovations build momentum as Kitamura jettisons quotation marks, allowing pronouns to float free of their referents ... The comma is Kitamura’s secret weapon, deployed prolifically throughout Intimacies, giving equal weight to arguments and counter-arguments buzzing inside the narrator’s head, fulcrums that pivot the plot first this way, then that ... chips away at moral platitudes while still holding up the commitments and compromises we make as families and communities. The fragility of those bonds. This slim, graceful novel punches above its weight as Kitamura explores tragedy on an epic scale, reckoning with the ways we deceive each other and ourselves.
... [a] nuanced, intriguing novel ... Its exposition engages as thoroughly as an action-packed thriller—more thoroughly, perhaps, as its explication—trust, doubt, multiple interpretations of actions and word—may be more interesting than murder and mayhem ... every interaction is rich with ambiguity and introspection. For the course of Intimacies, you live in the perspective of the narrator, as established from that first paragraph. You experience every scene through her observant and questioning gaze. You become her so thoroughly that at the end of the book it’s a shock that you never learn her name. It’s a tour de force, and I found myself going back through certain passages because I had read so quickly, so urgently, that I wanted to reread and re-experience certain incidents ... Her control of characters, events, and emotions is extraordinary, the explication at once spare and vivid, and the questions it explores profound. Lucky you if you get to read her for the first time.
... the mastery of Katie Kitamura is evident ... By writing in first person and present tense, the author ensures that the reader lives within the mind and routine of the interpreter. This helps drive the steady dis-ease throughout the novel. Relief and distance achieved only because the interpreter is an observer by nature and a witness by circumstance. Nonetheless, we come to know the ugly truths secreted away by various characters in Intimacies. We are unable to turn away from her knowing. And our own ... The best poems, stories, essays, and novels expand our understanding of ourselves, the world we live in, and others. They bring greater depth and meaning to our own lives. In Intimacies, through the narrative of a single, unimportant woman, Katie Kitamura accomplishes these lofty goals and, through my own interpretation, has brought me to a greater understanding of myself and the people I call home.
Kitamura’s prose is assertive and straightforward, an interesting contrast with the complexity of her characters. She has a knack for bringing us into these intimate spaces while still keeping us far enough away to see things as an outsider looking in...Language is a strong tool in this book, referring both to the author’s writing and to the communication between characters. It is used not only to communicate thoughts and feelings between lovers and friends, but also to break the barrier between foreign countries as well as different morals and intentions. What is said in any language can be powerful, but silence also holds its own. What goes unsaid between these characters is a language of its own, providing a stronger sense of suspense that is as realistic as it is disturbing.
... while Katie Kitamura’s writing is of the Orwell-approved 'clear pane of glass' school, the cumulative effect of her deft, spare sentences is paradoxically confounding; what appears to be a straight path somehow becomes a labyrinth ... addictively mysterious ... its specificity comes to feel universal, too. If it works for you as it did for me, the narrator’s atomised experiences, her inability to forge a coherent narrative from her life, will feel compellingly strange as the pages rapidly turn – but also uncomfortably familiar, the book’s final intimacy being the one between narrator and reader.
I’ve seen Intimacies described as chilly, which I suppose I understand because its characters’ reactions to major drama are often understated and delayed. But beneath the surface of Kitamura’s prose thrums emotion, despair, and a sequence of complex ethical questions: is it appropriate to help someone who has done horrific things; should we look the other way if something amoral is happening; do we take people at their word or trust our own intuition? The text itself is linguistically funky, a watercolor of shadows whose dialogue sometimes melds into the narrator’s thoughts ... I’m particularly fascinated by how Intimacies often shrinks major beats down to infinitesimal size. Take the radical compression of the first paragraph, as a lifetime of plot is boiled down to an expository vignette that flavors the entire book ... The work of the narrator throughout is also the work of the reader—she, like us, tries to assemble the seemingly disparate threads of the novel into a cohesive whole that will centralize her and let her reckon with what she is going through with Adriaan. Kitamura’s achievement is that one leaves the novel with a sense of completion, though a traditional dénouement is not quite in the offing ... Intimacies might look like a two-dimensional beauty from the comfortable distance of a back jacket. But what is really here is something far more sensual, brimming with intense flavor.
There’s some weird grammar at play in this book. It popped me out of the story at first but I quickly got used to it. For example, there are no quotation marks. The dialogue spoken by characters simply happens. For the most part, it’s very readable. Kitamura surely made these choices purposefully. This is a book about the art of interpretation after all. It’s only fitting that the reader of Intimacies be placed in the role of interpreter. It’s also fitting that the art of interpretation takes some effort. There’s a lesson in that. That’s what Kitamura teaches us in this novel.
... fascinating and mysterious ... Kitamura seems to intentionally test the boundaries of how little biographical information an author can reveal about a protagonist while still making the reader feel intimately connected to them ... Readers will get a sense of both the importance and the futility of the International Criminal Court ... I couldn't help but crave a more open, incautious narrator, someone who is more than, as the accused puts it, 'part of the institution that [she] serve[s].' The novel effectively comments on the elusiveness of intimacy, but perhaps at the cost of the reader's emotional connection to the narrator. How much of what is factually revealed helps one understand a situation — or a person — more intimately? Even the journalists covering the International Criminal Court 'had merely fragments of the narrative and yet they would assemble those fragments into a story like any other story, a story with the appearance of unity.' Kitamura's novel has its own appearance of unity, but ultimately illustrates how one's interpretations can fail to help them see the world in which they live.
In a novel where we can barely shake hands without quietly contemplating the dynamics of structural power, a man with gelled hair might as well have ridden into town wearing a black hat and two bandoleers ... The dark-suited war criminals provide the book’s most compelling passages, exuding a terrible charisma ... The problem is the whole novel, told in limpid, deliberately monosyllabic prose, seems to be seen through a glass wall, the narrator floating on at Covid-secure distance from everything ... The evacuated personalities on show, to be sure, exemplify the unfathomable separateness of other human beings. If the book is about a woman’s journey into the paradoxes of intimacy, which she craves and fears, then, I guess, it makes sense that her account of the world should contain, or at least start from, a position of rejecting it. But what surprise can the author offer, when she makes no attempt to know the characters in the first place? How can you unearth things if you didn’t put down any earth to begin with? The story and its characters feel like a pretext for the elegant management of theme ... It’s not that I don’t agree with Kitamura about power, unknowability, the barbarism of men. It’s that, reading her book, I don’t feel it, don’t hear it or see it. The novel puts the reader into the position of its narrator, looking in through Perspex at a muffled world.
... in many ways Kitamura emulates the tenor of any number of best-selling thrillers—peripheral characters are suspect, motivations are occluded, etc.—but her spare prose and refusal to ever offer summary conclusions keeps things all the more mysterious. Various narrative threads are woven, but they never web into any settled understanding; the author’s tilt toward the existential peril of unknowing is fundamental to her sense of story ... Few things are more intimate (and terrifying) than the act of being in the world, and Kitamura’s evocative interrogation of our ability to know ourselves and others is reinforced by the strength of her spare, haunting prose.
... searching and seriously considered—the glimpses into the protocol at the Court are highly intriguing—but the clean, blank surface of the prose inhibits deep engagement. The theme of ambiguity shades easily to vagueness, most notably in the encounters between the narrator and the accused war criminal, which ought to be climactic but instead feel uncertain.
Like her protagonist, Kitamura...is a master of precisely evocative language. In her work and in her isolation, the interpreter recognizes how familiarity can obscure intimacy, while its lack can yet lead to discomfiting proximity. The novel takes place so deeply within her that it’s truly personlike, at once forthright and mysterious, a piercing and propulsive meditation on closeness of many sorts.
... stunning ... It's a delight to accompany the narrator’s astute observational intelligence through these pages ... She threads...brilliantly through the intimacies her character is trying to navigate: with new colleagues, women friends, and her beau, who goes away; with the work and with the nature of The Hague itself ... The novel packs a controlled but considerable wallop, all the more pleasurable for its nuance. This psychological tone poem is a barbed and splendid meditation on peril.
... plodding ... There’s something vaguely unseemly ... But it’s hard to discern what anybody is actually up to ... There are, unfortunately, plenty of unused opportunities for deeper character development; Adriaan in particular is built up as a nemesis, but he does little more than preen, while even less can be said of the various other dilettantes and sexual rivals. Subtle to a fault, this adds up to very little outside of a plethora of dinner scenes and undeveloped subplots, while the translator simply drifts through a Henry James–style chronicle of life abroad. Kitamura is a talented writer, but this one disappoints.