Billed as a memoir, Hitch-22 is a hodge-podge of autobiography and Christopher Hitchens's musings on political and cultural antics of the last 50 years. The question that first struck me when presented with this book is: who would want to read it? Hitchens is, by the standards of Anglo-Saxon journalism, a skilled turn and he's had an interesting intellectual journey from British Trotskyite to American neo-con sidekick, but my guess is that most of those who'd be willing to part with money to read this are those who are regular consumers of his columns.
If you've followed his work, I doubt there's much here that will be new. I've never sought out Hitchens's writing, but even having haphazardly digested his work over the years, there was a great deal that was familiar. As a sort of greatest-hits treasure trove, Hitch-22 will have an appeal for his admirers, but if you don't want to read any further I can sum the book up as too long, far too long and meandering but with half-a-dozen cracking anecdotes, the best of which is Hitchens being spanked (with a rolled-up parliamentary order-paper) by Margaret Thatcher (he insists he has witnesses).
Apparently, his editor (or editors) didn't bother to read through the manuscript. Despite the inclusion of salacious material, Hitchens masturbating his school friends, doing "two young men who later became members of Margaret Thatcher's government" at Oxford where he was also possibly the recipient of Bill Clinton's sloppy seconds, much of the book becomes tedious. Hitchens (unusually for a grizzled Fleet Street pro) doesn't know when to stop.
Amid the vast expanses of what J. D. Salinger so pithily termed the "David Copperfield crap", Hitchens nevertheless provides a moving portrait of his father, a distinguished former naval Commander who is the most admirable figure in the book, and his mother who seems to have suffered from a bad case of the Madame Bovarys and who ended up committing suicide. However, I'm sure I'm not the only person to be totally unaffected and uninterested in Hitchens's mid-life discovery that he is part Jewish and the page-filling genealogy this begats.
Much space is devoted to Hitchens's famous literary chums James Fenton, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie. Friendship is a glorious thing, but again the editor should have stepped in to curtail Hitchens, particularly in his accounts of their word-games, which might have been hilarious at the time when they were all pissed, but which lie unhappily on the page (with the exception of retitling Shakespeare's plays à la Robert Ludlum: The Elsinore Vacillation, The Rialto Sanction).
Media gadfly: Christopher Hitchens