Saturday, May 22, 2010

Hitch 22

So just how bad was infant terrible Christopher Hitchens when he actually was an infant? The answer is...not very. Naughty perhaps, but Hitchens has always been that quaintly English type of rebel who knows on which side his crumpet is buttered. Stop me if you've heard this one before: a middle class privately educated school boy goes to Oxford and becomes (gasp) a Trotskyite before having a (gasp) mid life crisis and returns to the Macmillanesque high Toryism of his youth. Along the way Hitch gets in a few verbal scraps, Mrs Thatcher calls him cheeky and he moves to DC (or was it Marvel?) Like his Oxford chums Martin Amis, Julian Barnes et. al. he becomes a prose master; Hitchens however never experiences real poverty, self doubt or soul searching . . .the kind of stuff that makes good writers into great ones. Gore Vidal used to call Hitch the Dauphin to his Roi Soleil and the two men are undoubtedly brilliant, clever and witty but with both there's a kind of emotional hollowness which keeps them from the pantheon. Toffs, even well read ones, find it difficult to create high art, which I feel is the same problem that Hitch's buddies Barnes and Amis share too.
I am an admirer of Christopher Hitchens though and better than that I respect him. He takes literature seriously, he's no fan of the John Le Carre school of apologia and unlike almost every other member of his political cadre he never mocks the American underclass or NATO's servicemen and women. Hitch 22 however was ultimately a disappointment. Hitchens doesn't go deep enough or wield the knife with enough forensic vigour to really give himself a thorough going over. It's a shame. He had the stones to go after Mother Teresa, Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger etc. but then he bottled it when the oracles at his publishing house asked him to know himself.
For a different take on Hitchens's book, check out Peter Temple's excellent review in the Melbourne Age here. Temple however makes one small error when he mentions Hitchens's lapel flag - he implies that Hitch wears the Stars and Stripes on his jacket but it is in fact the banner of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.