Despite reservations, I’ll probably give in to temptation, and read Christopher Hitchens’ memoir. Maybe on the plane?
Described as “a memoir,” [Hitch-22: A Memoir] is a full-frontal self-portrait, not an apologia; as the author would doubtless want us to note, “Never Apologize, Never Explain” was the title of Edmund Wilson’s 1944 New Yorker tribute to Evelyn Waugh. By turns beguiling, annoying, fascinating and infuriating, Hitch-22 catches the tone, if not the totality, of the man. We learn that the object of his earliest amorous attentions was a classmate named Guy, “a sort of strawberry blond, very slightly bow-legged, with a wicked smile that seemed to promise both innocence and experience.” Later on, after his tastes turned more conventional, Hitchens allowed himself a “mildly enjoyable relapse” with “two young men who later became members of Margaret Thatcher’s government.” Of his two wives, however, he says almost nothing. Readers expecting a full account of our hero’s life and loves—or even of how he went about earning his trench coat—will be disappointed. So too will anyone expecting the kind of tough-minded dissection Hitchens practiced with such panache on the self-serving delusions of Henry Kissinger, Isaiah Berlin, Norman Podhoretz and Conor Cruise O’Brien.
Yet the book is a reminder that even on his worst days, Hitchens still writes well enough to be entertaining. At his best he is an unrivaled polemicist: a “strong writer” whose style leaves a lasting furrow in the reader’s mind and whose arguments, no matter how seemingly wrongheaded, are almost always worth taking seriously. Hitch-22 also has a built-in advantage: all self-portraits are illuminating, though not always in the way the artist intended. You would hardly guess from the brief, warm allusion to O’Brien as “a man of considerable mind” that while alive the Irish writer had been on the receiving end of a comprehensive kicking by Hitchens. Nor would Hitchens’s past relish in repeatedly putting the rhetorical boot into Podhoretz seem credible to anyone encountering the rare, anodyne invocations of the father of neoconservatism here. Hitchens’s new friends on the right might be tempted to trace his earlier lèse-majesté to the malign influence of his former friend, co-conspirator and fellow Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn—himself a conspicuous absence in these pages. But before we examine what Hitchens leaves out, we might consider what he leaves in.
(click to continue reading Changing Places | The Nation.)