In recent years, Christopher Hitchens's personality has almost always overshadowed his prose. So, it seems fitting that the 61-year-old rhetorical pugilist's new book is his memoir, "Hitch-22."
With his razor-sharp wit, Hitchens recounts everything from the shocking details of his mother's death to his visit to a Thai brothel, with plenty of eyebrow-raising interludes along the way.
As close friend Ian McEwan noted: "If Hitchens didn't exist, we wouldn't be able to invent him."
Herewith, a cheat sheet to "Hitch-22" and some of its more scintillating contents.
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Hitchens is relentless in recounting Bill Clinton's exploits during his years as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. He mentions Clinton's allergy to smoke -- supporting his famous "I did not inhale" claim -- but goes on to mention the former president's affinity for consuming marijuana in the form of cookies and brownies. Hitchens does not stop there though. His scathing expose of Clinton continues later on in the memoir when he describes Clinton as a hypocrite who tried to have things "both ways." Worse yet, he suggests Clinton may have been "snitching" on Hitchens and his friends to the CIA regarding their anti-war activity. Hitchens throws in more Clinton gossip such as his involvement with a group of female Leckford Road residents -- but not in the way you might think. Mistaking their invitations as innocent, the former president soon learned that he had been taken in by the siren's song. The women would use handsome men to attract beautiful and charming young women to their parties, only to persuade them to partake in lesbian orgies.
Hitchens's memoir features several prominent people ranging from actors to authors, but it is the highly accomplished novelist Martin Amis who joins Hitchens in many of his debauched adventures. In one of several hilarious incidents, Hitchens describes a mid-morning visit to a brothel called the Tahitia, a Polynesian-themed "massage parlor" in New York City, after a night of hard drinking. Upon awaking with a dreadful hangover, Hitchens recalls being approached by Amis who claimed that he needed to visit a brothel in order to write his now seminal novel "Money". After taking a moment to compose himself, Amis starts again saying: "And you," he pauses for a moment and continues "are fucking well coming with me." As surprised as Hitchens was, it was only the tip of the iceberg. He later learned that Amis had "cleared" this most sordid affair with his then-wife Antonia telling her: "I'm going to a handjob parlor with Hitch." After their visit to the brothel, the two partners in crime went to a Japanese restaurant to drink sake in an effort to cure their hangovers from the night before. For details of what Amis experienced in Tahitia, pick up a copy of Amis's novel (turn to pages 98-104 for all the sleazy details).
The surname Amis emerges a handful of times over the course of "Hitch-22", sometimes for the better, but in this particular case for the worse. Martin Amis' equally prolific father, Kingsley Amis, is considered to be the most accomplished English novelists of the 20th century, however it is a few off-color remarks about Americans and race that leave a lasting impression. Amis, an admirer of American culture in his younger years, apparently changed his views substantially as he aged. Hitchens describes the senior Amis as being a "sulphurous anti-American," continuing his account of the conversation, Hitchens recalls a joke that Amis told him that night, which ended in Amis insisting that every American author is "either a Jew or a hick." Later, Amis told a racy joke including the famous comedian and actor, Eddie Murphy, in its punch line. Although nobody laughed, he insisted that it was a "flawless masterpiece." To round out his Michael Richards-esque comedic performance, Amis cracked a joke that Hitchens does not quote verbatim but mentions that the punch line alluded to Nelson Mandela being a terrorist. Zing!
Perhaps Hitchens's most surreal encounter was with the highly distinguished former prime minister of the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher. Having just written a piece for the New Statesman, in which he infamously claimed that Thatcher was "surprisingly sexy," a claim that, by his own admission, received more anger-mail than any other piece he had written, he found himself at the same party as the gallant former Prime Minister. In true Hitchens fashion, he approached the then prime minister in an effort to discuss her Rhodesia/Zimbabwe policy, one with which he strongly disagreed. Just as soon as he attempted to initiate a policy debate, Thatcher ordered Hitchens to bow. Not one to refuse an order from the second most powerful person in the UK, he obliged, only to be ordered to "Bow lower!" Hitchens, now feeling self-conscious about the whole ordeal is ordered once more to bow "Much lower!" Seemingly content with the arc of his bow, she began to walk a slow circle around him as if she were stalking prey and continued to do so until she took her hands from behind her back brandishing a rolled up parliamentary order-paper and spanked Hitchens directly on the buttocks and walked away from a freshly embarrassed Hitchens. He straightened his back, struggling to comprehend what had just occurred, only to see Thatcher glance back in his direction and flirtatiously remark: "Naughty boy!"
Hitchens' name dropping reaches its highest peak when he recounts a humorous anecdote told to him by world-renowned philosopher and political theorist Isaiah Berlin. An elderly Berlin recalled to him a luncheon he attended during the early days of the First World War where key proponent of the literary realism movement, Henry James, who was a tad overzealous, attempted to start a conversation with then head of the Admirality Winston Churchill, only to be publicly rebuffed by the iconic political figure. Churchill had no time for the iconic figure's questions about the progress of the war and "snubbed him". However, James was not ready to tuck tail and run. Instead, he gathered his wits and declared: "It is strange with how uneven a hand nature chooses to distribute her richest favors," going on to add "but it rather bucks one up."
Throughout his memoir Hitchens speaks frankly and openly about the homosexuality of his literary contemporaries like Noël Coward, Chester Kallman, W. H. Auden and Tom Driberg as well as his own sexuality. In one instance, he details quite graphically a conversation he had with Gore Vidal at a dinner where Vidal "boasted that he has never knowingly or intentionally gratified any of his partners. Not even a sighing reach-around by the sound of it."