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Hitch-Hiking


 
 

Christopher Hitchens
tells all...!

   

 

In the September issue of Vanity Fair, journalist and author Christopher Hitchens talks with touching candor about the discovery of his esophageal cancer while on the book tour for his best-selling Hitch-22: A Memoir, which we have, like everybody else it seems, been reading.

 

Hitchens is famously known for his dipsomaniacal, chain-smoking habits.  When Charlie Rose recently asked him if he had any regrets, whether he would do it all over again, Hitchens said, “Yeah, I think I would. I've had to reflect on this, of course, a lot recently and trying to imagine my life different and not ending up mortally sick, but it's impossible for me to imagine having my life without going to those parties, without having those late nights, without that second bottle. ...I wouldn't cut any of that out, no."

 

 

As he says in Hitch-22 in a piece titled A Short Footnote on the Grape and the Grain: “It's the professional deformation of many writers, and has ruined not a few.  (I remember Kingsley Amis, himself no slouch, saying that he could tell on what page of the novel Paul Scott had reached for the bottle and thrown caution to the winds.)  I work at home, where there is indeed a bar-room, and can suit myself. But I don't.  At about half past midday, a decent slug of Mr. Walker's amber restorative, cut with Perrier water (an ideal delivery system) and no ice.  At luncheon, perhaps half a bottle of red wine: not always more but never less.  Then back to the desk, and ready to repeat the treatment at the evening meal....”

 

Hitchens also said to Rose that it looked like he was "leaving the party a bit earlier than [he’d] like."  And it has been quite a party!  Hitch seems to have had what the New York Times calls a “Zelig-like ability to be in international capitals when trouble was brewing.”  He seems to have met everybody, and doesn't drop a single name from that long list--we hear about them all in the memoir!

 

He’s at his most evocative when he writes about his early years: childhood days in Malta (“this is when I first learned to see the picture of Catholicism as one of plump shepherds and lean sheep”); his lovely mother Yvonne who was to kill herself in a suicide pact with her lover in Athens in the 1970s, (he was to discover many years later that she was Jewish and says, "...she did not want me or my brother to be taxed with die Judenfrage-the Jewish question"); a walk on the Wilde side at boarding school (which he says must be acknowledged as “a form of love”); his Oxford years (he was in the same room when Bill Clinton ‘didn’t inhale’ and adds instead that Bill liked to “take his dope in the form of large handfuls of cookies and brownies.”).  There’s a somewhat dreary drive through his pinko years but then things start to perk up again when he talks about his move to America.  He is sentimental about the scope of America, about becoming American (England, after all, with the essentially limited character of its society, what Hitchens calls its “anxieties about class and the decline of empire”).  He is reticent about love, about falling in love, about his wives.  But he is emotional about his friends, his literary friends—Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, James Fenton (“Friends somebody said are ‘god’s apology for relations’”)

 


Christopher Hitchens, James Fenton, Martin Amis, Paris 1979

 

Hitchens who often come across as a bit confused politically is at his endearing best when he’s being unflinchingly candid about his illness or when he’s sticking up for principles: the idea of America (he is also the author of a book on Jefferson); his adamant atheism (Hitch-22 begins with the sentence: “I of course do not believe that it is “Allah” who determines these things [Salman Rushdie, commenting on my book god is Not Great, remarked rather mordantly that the chief problem with its title was a lack of economy: that it was in other words exactly one word too long.]); the fatwah against Rushdie (“...here was something that completely committed me.”)

 

We do hope and pray (in a literary sense, of course) that there’s a reprieve, that Hitchens is able to linger on, most deliciously, at the party....

 

Read: Hitch-22: A Memoir, Christopher Hitchens

 

Read: The Vanity Fair article: Topic of Cancer, Christopher Hitchens

 

See: Christopher Hitchens, the Charlie Rose interview

 

Read: an excerpt from the Memoir on Slate.com, A Short Footnote on the Grape and the Grain 

 

 

Tags: literature  books  memoirs  england  america

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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