Love, ugh. If there’s a more overused theme in fiction than love, then I haven’t discovered it. Most novels focus on new love, that all-consuming stage at the beginning of a relationship when colors seem brighter, food more flavorful and the world full of boundless possibility. The main characters get together, lose each other, find each other, and then decamp to live in an idyllic state called happily-ever-after, which is always located just beyond the book’s final page.
Hanif Kureishi writes about love, too, only his novels pick up where others leave off. He waits until after the fireworks are over, and writes about what comes next. His work grapples with the real stuff of commitment: compromise, tolerance, effort, and dissatisfaction—all qualities of a real-world relationship, but nothing that you’ll ever hear mentioned in ads for Valentine’s Day.
Intimacy, one of Kureishi’s early works, is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of book, gone almost as soon as it begins. Weighing in at just over 100 pages, it tells of a middle-aged man’s evening at home with his wife and two young sons. Everything proceeds normally, domestic rituals are dutifully followed, and from appearances, there would seem to be nothing to distinguish this evening from any other. But this night is different, because in the morning, when the sun is just warming the earth, this man will rise from bed, take his suitcase and leave his family forever.
Intimacy is written as an internal monologue that the man is having with himself as he lives his last day at home. Although his plan is premeditated, his personal history intrudes, and through a series of flashbacks, the reader is given access to many past scenes from the man’s life. We also watch how he struggles to maintain his resolve, as he struggles with his doubts and very nearly decides to scrap the whole plan.
Kureishi’s main character offers us no catharsis, no epiphanies: everything he is (and everything he’ll become) depends upon a single choice that he will make in the morning. Nothing happens in Intimacy, but something will happen. And the weight of that anticipation, that all-important manner in which Kureishi holds that crucial moment suspended, make Intimacy a short but important read.