The Hitch died two years ago last month and this memoir was re-released a year after its initial release with a new foreword. In the twilight of his years in view of the fact of the foreknowledge of his mortality, he found it prudent to comment on his impending doom and the black humour of the first couple of chapters. He would of course go on to write Mortality, the (not completed) memoir-cum-journal dealing purely with his final year, musings on cancer, on life and death and how he would most certainly not be engaging in any deathbed conversions.
This then is his actual memoir and in typical Hitch fashion it has its fair dose of observations and insights, dark humour, opinions on the world and of course his career as a journalist, polemicist and talking head for various US and UK news reports and talk shows. It starts as they all invariably do, with childhood. Born and brought up in Malta to a mother of Jewish descent (which she hid) and a father who served in the British Navy, he moves very quickly to his experiences at a boarding school where he found his love of books. His mother would shockingly enter into a suicide pact in Athens with the man she would eventually leave his father for.
In amongst the usual narrative of a person’s life, The Hitch presents us with some rather amusing contrary opinions on the global events during his life. He gives us an amusing perspective on the Cuban Missile Crisis for example; he resents the insistence on collective gratitude showered on JFK for averting a disaster “largely of his own making”. Of the man he says he felt no loss at the assassination of such “a high-risk narcissist”. It is known to his detractors and to his fans that he was in his student days a Marxist. Though it was interesting to hear about his trips to Belfast and Havana and to have an amusing insight into the political bickering between the various Marxist groups, I didn’t find it particularly engaging if I am honest. But no matter, it was obviously such a big part of his life for so long so it couldn’t go unremarked.
What also doesn’t go unremarked is the close friendship he had with Martin Amis and the mixed relationship with Kingsley Amis – including an account of the final time they saw each other. He also mentions in the same chapter, his very first meeting with Margaret Thatcher – it has to be seen to be believed! Unsurprisingly, he didn’t like her very much though he admits to admiring her for being a politician of convictions – someting lacking in today’s Tory party of one-trick “Great British Sell Off”.
Of lesser interest to me was the political climate of the 1960s and the ins and outs of the struggles between leftist factions and between the left and the fascist regimes of Portugal, Spain and Greece while the eastern block fought with ideological left. It was shortly after this that he moved to the USA and I guess where he started to become a truly global figure.
It is a book of self-reflection, humour, commentary and musings on life. Rather than recounting events, he takes momentary pauses to truly reflect on the meanings of the events that are happening around him. From his awareness of the absolutist religion pushers that have been so endemic since (and perhaps before) 9/11 and his involvement in the rise of the so-called “New Atheism”, this is a thorough account of one of the greatest political writers and thinkers of our time. You will be missed by supporters and opponents alike, RIP Christopher Hitchens.