Christopher Hitchens's Memoir: Witty, Self-Deprecating

And full of name-dropping

This article is from the archive of our partner .

This week saw the publication of Hitch-22, a memoir by essayist Christopher Hitchens. Known for his erudition, his militant atheism, and his unsparing critiques of the figures and ideas that others hold dear, Hitchens is admired and feared in equal measure on both the left and the right. Critics have found Hitch-22 both absorbing and, at times, frustrating--not unlike the man himself.

  • Could Have Been More Introspective  The Economist laments Hitchens's failure to examine his personal life more closely. "For what is meant to be a no-holds-barred memoir, the author goes lightly on some of his failings. Broken ideals get plenty of self-satisfied scrutiny; broken hearts and marriages rate barely a mention. The impression left is of a writer frozen in a precocious teenagery, whose ability to tease and provoke the grown-ups is entertaining but ultimately tiresome. If Mr Hitchens can stay off the booze and do some serious thinking, his real autobiography, in 20 years’ time or so, should be a corker."
  • Reads Like a Who's Who  At the Barnes & Noble Review, Graeme Wood adds up the name-dropping: "I picked a random ten-page section and found sixteen luminaries referenced, from Nelson Mandela to Jorge Luis Borges, called in by Hitchens to raise the narrative's celebrity quotient." Nonetheless, Wood admits that the memoir "provoked in this reviewer several out-loud cackles," and concludes that Hitch-22 "is a good book, if not a serious one. Many memoirists, after all, show themselves to be much less."
  • Lay Off the False Modesty!  Salon's Allen Barra rolls his eyes at Hitchens's tic of self-deprecation, which to Barra rings hollow. At one point, Hitchens draws a parallel between himself and William Butler Yeats. As Barra tells it: "Hitchens adroitly dismisses 'any comparison between myself and one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century' -- except, of course, to point it out to us."
  • You've Changed, Man  "There is much in the book to enjoy," writes Terry Eagleton at the New Statesman, but first you have to see past Hitchens's propensity for self-regard. Eagleton praises Hitchens as "a superb writer, superior in wit and elegance to his hero George Orwell, and an unstanchably eloquent speaker." Yet if the memoir proves anything, says Eagleton, it's that Hitchens may have grown too enamored of the jet-setting lifestyle: "In his younger days, he was not averse to dining with repulsive fat cats while giving them a piece of his political mind. Nowadays, one imagines, he just dines with repulsive fat cats."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.