Katie Kitamura is a writer of both strenuous clarity but also careful elision. It would be relatively straightforward to list what happens in her latest novel, Intimacies, but a damn sight more demanding to weigh up what it all means (although there is pleasure to be had in ruminating, all the same).
As with her previous novel, A Separation, we have a narrator who is occupying an unfamiliar space – this time around The Hague in the Netherlands. Where A Separation was narrated by a translator, this time around, our narrator is an interpreter working (albeit temporarily) at the International Court. Both the unfamiliar space (our narrator was born in Singapore but has lived in New York for some years) and the occupation (she is asked to communicate what is being said but also the mode in which it is being said – is it sarcastic, defiant, misleading?) serve to create a mood of studious intent. There is meaning in these choices.
“It was the job of the interpreter not simply to state or perform but to repeat the unspeakable.”
She is asked to interpret the trial of a President who has been involved with all manner of terrible behaviour (but did he encourage the behaviour, was he at the helm, did the behaviour spiral without his consent?) – often called in to sit with the President in meetings with his law team, one of whom seems to have an unhealthy interest in her.
Outside of work, she is seeing a man called Adriaan who is dealing with the fallout from the end of his marriage. His beautiful wife Gaby has left him and taken the children to Lisbon. Although the new relationship seems promising, when Adriaan leaves for Lisbon, promising to return within the week, our narrator is left feeling strangely uprooted in the place she is yet to feel is home. Her friend Jana tells her of a mugging that took place outside her new home – and she is interested enough to pursue the story, visiting the shop of the man who has been attacked.
And it is here, in the collision of these stories, that we perhaps glimpse what it is Kitamura is exploring. The title is a clue. It’s intimacies. Moments in which people are laid bare. But it’s also significantly more than that. Can you share a moment with a virtual stranger and know something about them that their nearest and dearest don’t? There are scenes throughout the book in which people find themselves moved to the extent of perhaps oversharing, scenes in which people do not speak, in which people are observed without possibly knowing, in which possible confrontations are avoided, in which you feel the drama but also the pulse of an interesting mind at work, presenting these moments for our consideration.
Arguably it conjures up what Geeta Sereny was trying to do with her book in Albert Speer: His Battle with the Truth (albeit Sereny refracted through a writer of almost clinical detachment like say Rupert Thompson): can you know someone? Can you know someone and reconcile what you know they have done with the face that they present to the world – with the face that they present to you? – with all that that possibly tells you about yourself? Which in turn, of course, conjures up that Beckettian sense of ‘you can’t know / you can’t be known’. Intimacies exists in the apparently irreconcilable space between knowing and not knowing. And, in case we haven’t quite made the case clear, it’s also beautifully written.
“…interpretation can be profoundly disorientating, you can be so caught up in the minutiae of the act, in trying to maintain utmost fidelity to the words being spoken first by the subject and then by yourself, that you do not necessarily apprehend the sense of the sentences themselves: you literally do not know what you are saying. Language loses its meaning. This was happening to me now…”
Any Cop?: Kitamura is very quietly becoming a real force to be reckoned with. Much as we liked A Separation, we’d go as far to say this is an even better piece of work. Heartily recommended.