Intimacies by Katie Kitamura review – difficulties of interpretation

Tipped by Barack Obama, this is an addictively mysterious novel about a woman adrift in her own life

“The appearance of simplicity is not the same thing as simplicity itself,” thinks the narrator of Intimacies after discovering her Dutch boyfriend, Adriaan, is married. Similarly, 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.

Adriaan admits to having a wife. “But I don’t know for how much longer,” he tells the unnamed narrator. “Is that OK?” In fact, very little in this addictively mysterious novel is OK, from the “complex and contradictory” nature of The Hague, where the narrator has moved from New York, to her work as an interpreter at Kitamura’s version of the international criminal court. Here, despite her skill and discipline, she finds “great chasms between words, between two or more languages, that could open up without warning”.

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