Whatever your opinion of his beliefs, be they political, religious, or comedic, there is no denying Christopher Hitchens was a fantastic orator and writer. He used words in a way few other can, or could. His vocabulary was wide-ranging without ever seeming, as most people tend to, to have swallowed a thesaurus. His wit, like his memory, was razor-sharp and with many an incisive line or prescient quote he cut down many a debating foe. He was wide-read and widely-read. He was not without his flaws (as he would be the first to admit, nay, insist).
He was a drinker and a smoker and succumbed at the relatively young age of 61, somewhat predictably, to the same kind of cancer that killed his father. Yet he kept using words until the end.
Mortality is a series of essays by Christopher Hitchens for the magazine he wrote for, for many years, Vanity Fair. They have been revised and updated, but they essentially track Hitchens’ thoughts on a variety of topics related to his diagnosis.
They talk of his and other people’s reactions to the diagnosis, to the power of prayer, the thought of losing one’s voice, of being helpless, and even find space to mock the age-old axiom “whatever doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger”.
Throughout, he presents (presented?) himself with the dignity and humour all of his fans around the world know and love and it demonstrates just what a loss to the world his untimely demise was.
Unsurprisingly, this is not a long work and can be easily, and somewhat compulsively, read in one sitting. It is sad to read about his deteriorating condition and his hopes for a cure. But it is also uplifting.
To see someone deal with such a situation with honesty and dignity is really moving. These articles stand in stark contrast to some of the disgusting things written by his (predominantly religious) enemies. He quotes them towards the beginning of the book, before going on to dissect their position with ruthless efficiency. Or, in the phrase of his fans, they got well and truly Hitch-slapped.
It is a somewhat morbid topic to write about on a Friday, but Saturday marks the first anniversary of his premature demise and it seems only right to pay tribute to the man using the English language, a small part of which, he made his own.
It is a great book and a fitting tribute to such a prominent figure. After reading it, you cannot feel that you have not done enough with your life and an overwhelming urge to live every moment to the fullest.
A staunch atheist and anti-theist to the bitter end, I will leave you with a quote from the final chapter of his now permanently unfinished ideas and notes.
“”If I convert it’s because it’s better that a believer dies than that an atheist does.”
R.I.P. Christopher Hitchens