NYT reviews Hitch-22

June 19, 2010 • 5:53 am

I know I said that I wouldn’t post on this book again, but I’m adding one more link to tomorrow’s New York Times review of Hitchens’s memoir.  I think the review is absolutely fair, and perhaps the best of the many I’ve read.  One plaint:  reviewer Jennifer Senior says that Hitchens “writes like a drunken angel.”  If the “drunken” refers to the man’s well known predilection for the grain and the grape, I think the word is wrong, for there’s simply no trace of drunkenness in Hitchens’s writing.  He writes like an angel, period.  But perhaps Senior simply means that drunken angels write better than sober ones.

And it turns out that much of the autobiographical pith of “Hitch-22” has appeared elsewhere, most notably in Ian Parker’s excellent 2006 profile of Hitchens in The New Yorker [note: link here], and it’s surprising how little to it that Hitchens now adds — how little, indeed, is in this book that’s generally considered the lymph and marrow of a traditional reminiscence. We hear almost nothing of Hitchens’s two marriages or three children, and he certainly never discusses falling in love. (Though he talks about his experiments on the Wilde side at university — as well as at boarding school, even if those were abruptly brought to an end by a snitch “with the unimprovable name of Peter Raper.”) We do hear about his social life and dearest friendships, and those portraits and set pieces are some of the most pleasurable in the book. This is a man who’s cut such a fat swath through the smart set that a dinner with William Styron essentially gets relegated to a footnote, as does the revelation that he learned the identity of Deep Throat long before the public did, by pestering Nora Ephron, Carl Bernstein’s ex-wife (in fact, you would not believe the number of delectable footnotes in this book; the devil, apparently, is in the asterisks). . . .

None of this means that “Hitch-22” isn’t marvelous in its own way. But it’s probably a misnomer to call it a memoir, and easier to enjoy if one thinks of it as a collection of essays instead. . .

By the time he got to Oxford, he was quite accustomed to “keeping two sets of books,” passing out leaflets at car plants by day and racing off in fancier dress to the Gridiron Club by night. When he began his work at The New Statesman, he realized that “journalism was the ideal profession for someone like myself who was drawn to the Janus-faced mode of life,” in that one had to seduce both sides to hear the whole story.

So yes, Christopher Hitchens may long to be a cogent man of reason, and he can certainly be a pitiless adversary. But he knows there are two sides to any decent match, and it’s touching, in “Hitch-22,” to see how often he’ll race to the other side of the court to return his own serve. Which may explain why, though he tries to be difficult, he’s so hard to dislike.

2 thoughts on “NYT reviews Hitch-22

  1. one had to seduce both sides to hear the whole story

    and then one could went the pent up frustration by raging at both sides.

    Journalism may have its sides [sic!], but presumably being unfulfilled isn’t one of them.

  2. “a dinner with William Styron essentially gets relegated to a footnote” Is that why they call it “name-dropping”?

    “he’ll race to the other side of the court to return his own serve”

    Wonderful image!

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