Like many of her previous works, Katie Kitamura's fourth novel, Intimacies, has been showered with praise. It made The New York Times's list of '10 Best Books', was longlisted for the National Book Award and the PEN/ Faulkner Award for Fiction, and was a finalist for the Joyce Carol Oates Prize. It was also one of former American president Barack Obama's favourite books of the year.

So much acclaim can often rouse unsustainable expectations, but Intimacies does not disappoint. It is short and contains nothing extraneous; no passages which merit skimming, no page that can be turned over after only a cursory glance. The author has weighed each word before including it in the text. Even the one-word title proclaims that when a single word can convey the meaning, no more need to be used.

The story is about a rootless, youngish woman, never named, who is grieving for her father and for a place to call home. She comes to The Hague on a year's contract to be an interpreter at the 'Court' - probably the International Court of Justice. The city is strange for her, the apartment she occupies is barely furnished and she knows hardly anyone.

After New York - from where she comes - The Hague seems civilised, well-mannered and manicured. But there is more to it than meets the eye. At one instance, Kitamura shows how elaborately the streets are rid of the plague of discarded cigarette butts, at once elucidating the city's emphasis on cleanliness while pointing to the presence of at least one segment of society which is devoid of civic sense.

A much-praised novel by Katie Kitamura does not disappoint, its writing restrained, understated and subtle, yet packing a big wallop

Almost the entire cast of the book are wanderers; they are not only not from The Hague, but have lived in and left many places. In this milieu, our heroine befriends Jana, whom she meets through a mutual friend in London. Jana's recently bought apartment is in the seedier part of town. On her very first visit to Jana's apartment, the woman hears police sirens announcing an untoward incident at the doorstep of the building, a mugging, possibly a herald of more unpleasantness to come.

At a party at the museum where Jana works, the woman meets Adriaan, a resident of The Hague. They are attracted to each other and initiate a relationship. But, from a chance meeting with the rather sleazy character Rees, she discovers that Adriaan is married with two children. She also learns that the...

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