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Book Review: Hitch 22 by Christopher Hitchens

Reading or indeed listening to the late Christopher Hitchens is always a challenging as well as illuminating experience. Let’s just say you don’t exactly need an advanced degree in linguistics or dialectics but it certainly helps.

Hitch 22 is a dazzling display of the man’s celebrated erudition, but as such can lead to occasional bouts of frustration as the reader is compelled to follow Hitchens through an interminable thought labyrinth, one that gets ever deeper, ever more esoteric. Oh those footnotes!

Arguably, the strongest part of the book is the presentation of the writer’s somewhat nomadic childhood; early memories of his father, mother and brother are related with a good dose of wryness and detachment.

Underneath the irony, one manages to detect a sort of intellectual affection for his parents, papa Hitchens aka ‘the commander’ and Yvonne, the author’s intriguingly bohemian mother who would eventually commit suicide. Not that there is anything idyllic about Hitchen’s childhood; Laurie Lee this is not.

Apparent in these sketches of life as the son of a Royal Navy man is the tendency to attribute significance to seemingly trivial events, as if the young and (older) Hitchens had been singled out as ‘special.’ Hence. there’s a good deal of name dropping throughout the book that will either delight or grate depending on individual temperament.

Yes, Hitch did rub shoulders with the good and the great, but you just know that even the waiter who serves him a cocktail in the reception of the Hilton Astana will one day become the president of Kazakhstan.

Hitch 22 is a suitably dry title for these memoirs, but ‘Aren’t I Good,’ would have been just, if not more apt. And yes, he was bloody good, but oh how it shows. Be warned, taking on this chunky 400 plus page book is not for the feint-hearted. At times it’s a trek, a march through a sandstorm of ideas, theories and suppositions that although difficult one instinctively feels will be worth the effort.

Utmost in these pages is the author’s experiences and opinions on two subjects dear to his heart: The USA and the Israel/Palestine question. You’ll not be surprised to know Hitch has been there and done it all. Clinton, Kissinger, Arafat, Hitchens seems to have met just anybody who is anybody from these two closely related spheres of his life. Readers with an interest in such things will no doubt be hooked while others may feel the urge to reach for the fast forward button.

Curiously, after the introductory chapters regarding the Hitchens clan, the author’s personal life disappears entirely from the pages of this book. The author’s wife is mentioned in passing somewhere around the 350-page mark as indeed is a daughter, but that’s all you get.

This quasi-biographical nature of the book might well disappoint those hoping for a glimpse into the domestic life of this, one of the greatest intellectual heavyweights of the last fifty years. The author though has far too many debates to engage in and wrongs to right than talk of the kitchen sink.

Although this book is 450 pages in length, one can’t help but feeling this needed to be volume 1 of say, 50 – the Britannica Hitchens. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this book however is the rather diluted account of the author’s shift from the vacuous student politics of the left to a more balanced political outlook as his experiences broadened and matured. Alas, it is a subject that is all too briefly presented.

Aside from the author’s adulation of Martin Amis, such is the wit, such the precocity, such the power of the man’s prose it’s hard not to get swept along by the sheer artistry on display within these pages. Coming out the other side is both a relief and a wrench. In Hitch 22 Christopher Hitchens has woven what amounts to a journey of discovery. Enjoy the ride.