Thursday, 26 May 2011

Hitch, digested. Vanity Fair's provocateur in chief Christopher Hitchens' memoir Hitch 22

It was, in retrospect, inevitable that a book written by one Christopher Hitchens, he of the passionately left wing opinions and the throat cancer, not to mention the fine Washington apartment, and a favourite of the sort of dinner party favoured by the highest of American political circles, should, when all is said and done, generate such a variety of opinion. Not just in the sense of who liked it and who did not but also in terms of who finished it and who did not and who liked what part of it, while not liking another part. Hitch 22 is, if it is nothing else, a memoir that stirs up emotions and sets the mind racing. It also managed the remarkable feat of simultaneously convincing me that I should have taken up smoking in my younger years, while confirming that my stance as a lifelong non-smoker was absolutely the correct one.

Inhale deeply, swallow a mouthful of Shiraz, and start writing in normal voice.

Loved it. Completely loved it. And Hitch, should you happen to read this on your Google alerts - I wonder if you do - I'm heading out right now to buy up your other books because at 42 I'm too old not to have read them.

For what it is worth, our little group loved the personal stuff. The recollections and revelations relating to your mother and father, the account of life at school, your years at university and those first precocious stumblings in the world of journalism. It all seemed so long ago. Cricket on the lawn. Sending off in the mail for a pamphlet on the Jewish Question. Smoking both in the office and in a restaurant.

You could sense the energy you all had - you and Amis, Fenton and the others. How I wish I'd seen Clive James' play, what was it about? Prince Charles, wasn't it? It sounded really terrible. As for Salman's wordplay, actually that divided us. What was it? Ludlum writes Shakespeare or some such Eng Lit snobbery? Shame on you all, but it raised a few laughs just the same.

We wondered: what gave you the confidence? Was it from within you, or was it that privileged education, your mother's aspirations; or simply the place and the time? Was it the whisky?

The last third of the book, of course, is you settling some arguments. Perhaps some old scores too. At times it baffled, but generally it entertained and informed. We all reached for our laptops to Google the names you threw at us. People you knew and debated with, who to us are footnotes in history, littered every page. We're re-assessing that now, adjusting our world view, realising how little we have kept up. Glad that people like you are out there to join up the dots so we can see what the result is.

It's a brilliant book. And we all hope there will be a part II. Best of luck.


  1. As divisive a figure as Hitchens is, one can't help but admire the way he unceremoniously ridiculed Gore Vidal after the latter claimed 9/11 was a conspiracy. That alone deserves respect.

    I think I'll pick this up in paperback form rather than as an ebook. That way I can show it off to anyone who pops round for a cup of coffee. "Why yes", I'll say. "That is a copy of Hitch-22. I read stuff like that all the time. I don't spend all my time watching TV and drinking soda you know.".

  2. Very funny.. yes, definitely one for the coffee table.