The last Hitchens book (and a memoir by Carol Blue)

August 25, 2012 • 5:14 am

At least one more book by Hitchens will be published. Mortality, apparently the story of his battle with cancer, comes out September 4, is short (128 pages), and can already be ordered at AmazonSome jottings of Hitchens have just been published at Slate, along with a slideshow of some photographs. As the website notes:

Publisher’s note: These fragmentary jottings, published as the last chapter of Christopher Hitchens’ new book, Mortality, were left unfinished at the time of Hitchens’ death in December. Annotations by Slate editor David Plotz.

Here are a few of them, and they’re sad:

“Remember, you too are mortal”—hit me at the top of my form and just as things were beginning to plateau. My two assets my pen and my voice—and it had to be the esophagus. All along, while burning the candle at both ends, I’d been “straying into the arena of the unwell” and now “a vulgar little tumor” was evident. This alien can’t want anything; if it kills me it dies but it seems very single-minded and set in its purpose. No real irony here, though. Must take absolute care not to be self-pitying or self-centered.
Only OK if I say something objective and stoical: Ian remarking that a time might come when I’d have to let go: Carol asking about Rebecca’s wedding “Are you afraid you won’t see England again?”Also, ordinary expressions like “expiration date”…will I outlive my Amex? My driver’s license? People say—I’m in town on Friday: will you be around? WHAT A QUESTION!


Now so many tributes that it also seems that rumors of my LIFE have also been greatly exaggerated. Lived to see most of what’s going to be written about me: this too is exhilarating but hits diminishing returns when I realize how soon it, too, will be “background.”

It’s been eight months since Hitchens died, but the sense of his loss is still palpable, and keen.  They say that nobody’s irreplaceable, but he’s as close as it comes.

Here are some photos from Slate‘s slideshow; there are eight of them.

A group shot in 1991, while Salman Rushdie was in hiding. Back row from left: Rushdie, Andrew Wylie, David Rieff, Hitchens, Ian McEwan. Front row from left: Blue, Erica Wylie, Elizabeth West, and Martin Amis.

This photo is unspeakably sad:

This photo, taken during Hitchens’ illness, is featured on the back cover of his new book, Mortality.

UPDATE: Reader “bonetired” called my attention to a column in today’s Telegraph by Carol Blue, Hitchens’s wife for 22 years: “Christopher Hitchens: an Impossible act to follow.” It’s the most detailed account yet of how he faced death, and confirms again the bravery with which he faced insuperable odds. It will also make you tear up.

Here’s one anecdote, involving Hitchens’s chemotherapy, that will appeal to us science fans:

Not long before, back in Washington, on a bright and balmy Indian-summer afternoon, he excitedly summoned his family and visiting friends on an outing to see the “Origins of Man” exhibition at the Museum of Natural History, where I watched him sprint out of a cab and up the granite steps to throw up in a trash can before leading his charges through the galleries and exuberantly impressing us with the attainments of science and reason.

And there’s this:

I miss his perfect voice. I heard it day and night, night and day. I miss the first happy trills when he woke; the low octaves of “his morning voice” as he read me snippets from the newspaper that outraged or amused him; the delighted and irritated (mostly irritated) registers as I interrupted him while he read; the jazz-tone riffs of him “talking down the line” to a radio station from the kitchen phone as he cooked lunch; his chirping, high-note greeting when our daughter came home from school; and his last soothing, pianissimo chatterings on retiring late at night.

These are from Blue’s afterword to Mortality. I always wondered how the two got along, for Hitchens never wrote much about his family, and I’m sure he was fiercely attractive to other women. But it’s clear from this memoir, and the pictures in the Slate column, that they loved each other very much.

30 thoughts on “The last Hitchens book (and a memoir by Carol Blue)

  1. ” They say that nobody’s irreplaceable, but he’s as close as it comes.”

    Agree totally. he left an unfillable empty place, albeit filled with his words – lucky us

  2. Sorry, this is really too much:

    “fiercely attractive to other women”?

    Hitchens was many, many things, some admirable, others less so (“fucking fat slags”), but I really don’t think we need to gild the lily thus, do we?

    I’m a professional appraiser and consumer of male beauty, and Hitch is obviously no looker superficially. Moreover, I’d wager that Hitchens in real life probably smelled abominably due to his smoking, drinking, and general lack of health. And while I know male academics cherish the idea that their huge brains and sassy boots make them total chick magnets when their looks cannot, I can assure you that, sexually speaking, Hitchens Is Not Great.

    1. Oh, please… this only demonstrates that Hitchens was not attractive to you. But there are many women out here (myself included), who are attracted to wit, intelligence, intellectual courage and other qualities that Hitchens possessed in excess, rather than to perfect facial features and muscles. Not everyone is just a “consumer of male [superficial] beauty”. 

      I was in the audience at one of Hitchens’ debates with rabbi David Wolpe. Wolpe is a nice man and what many would probably consider quite attractive, in a very conventional way. He was dressed all in black, clean-shaven, thin and with perfect hair. Hitchens, on the other hand, arrived at the stage wearing a rumpled suit, slightly disheveled, sweaty and probably drunk (although I always suspected that this was often an act). After the first ten minutes of the debate, I had no doubt with which man I’d rather spend the rest of the night (or the rest of my life, for that matter).

    2. Pliable, you are an unreconstructed jackass, and probably smellier than Hitchens. Are you habitually this rude? If so, your charm is even further reduced.

      1. Uh oh… I see what the problem is now, why Pliable Charms has her knickers in knot.
        “slag” in the urban dictionary means ” An individual who cares not for relationships beyond the realm of the sexual, these people sleep with many partners not caring about anything save for the moment of climax. ”

        Could Pliable Charms = “fucking fat slags”?

  3. “This photo is unspeakably sad:”

    Yes, it really is. Weary, aware that death is close and resigned to the inevitable. I really wish, selfishly for my own sake as much as any other reason, that he had not died.

  4. “Now so many tributes that it also seems that rumors of my LIFE have also been greatly exaggerated. Lived to see most of what’s going to be written about me: this too is exhilarating but hits diminishing returns when I realize how soon it, too, will be “background.””

    Couldn’t he nail it! (And a beautiful twist on Twain.)

  5. During his public appearances, I always loved inevitable part where he would be confronted with an angry and possibly condescending question. He would start to smile in a way that was both beautiful and evil at the same time before replying, and you knew that Hitch was having fun, and yes, to our Sourpuss above, that was definitely attractive.

    1. Yeah I can’t remember the interview when he was told that he was an alcoholic, chain smoking, arrogant, contrarian, and worse. Hitch just smiled and replied, “What’s so bad about that?”

  6. Like all of us, I miss him and wish he hadn’t died. I am a recovering alcoholic and ex-chain smoker. I am very fortunate that I have found life more meaningful and enjoyable without the drink and smokes though I never thought it was possible. I think he believed he could never enjoy life the way he did without these things and many people think he wouldn’t have been the same brilliant and witty (to do him justice I would have to use far too many superlatives here. Witty and brilliant are only a beginning and I’ll have to leave it to better writers who knew him better than I to properly describe him) writer, speaker and debater unless he drank and smoked as he did. While I will admit that it is possible he would have been miserable and unproductive without alcohol, I doubt it. I think if anything he would have enjoyed everything more once he got used to it and as impossible as it seems, he might have been more productive than ever if he could have quit the booze. And hardly anyone is able to stop smoking while they are still drinking as much as he did. He was far too smart to have really needed alcohol in order to write and speak and entertain so wonderfully. I wish he would have accepted the gift of sobriety and been able to maintain his health so he may have continued to live and love life the way he so obviously did. As things stand, he is another victim of alcohol, yet another beautiful heart and mind taken from us by that insidious sneaky temptress of a drug, alcohol. Alcohol is one of the primary causes of esophageal cancer along with, and contributing to, acid reflux and smoking. I completely understand its allure, but I hate it for the toll it has taken on all of us by killing so many of our best and brightest.
    Please don’t take this little note as a rant against booze and a plea for everyone to stop drinking. Most heavy drinkers never stop. I just want those of you who believe you need the booze to continue being creative or brilliant or whatever to know that there are many who think you might be wrong and things are not as good for you as they could be if you’d stop drinking. Nobody judges your creativity by measuring your alcohol consumption.

    1. Before I am raked over the coals about one particular thing I wrote, I’d like to correct it. I don’t think anybody can give anybody else a “gift” of sobriety. It was my way of saying I wish he had found a way to stop drinking in order to save his health and I should have simply stated it that way.

  7. I have to agree with Carol here. This has to be one of the best lines in the entire book.

    “If I convert it’s because it’s better that a believer dies than that an atheist does.” -Hitch

  8. Let’s not lower ourselves into a cult of worshipping the dead. That’s the domain of blind religious belief. Hitchens has left us his writing. Let’s be grateful for that, and move on with it in hand.

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