Book Review: “And Yet…”, Christopher Hitchens.

Reviewed by Thomas Edwards

This book of unpublished essays frequently reiterates itself as the concluding collection of Christopher Hitchens’ work. It states in the inner jacket how it is the ‘final volume’ and ‘the last of the last’. As a book that is the final product of collecting the last essays from what was a considerably well-stocked vault is surely not indicative of Hitchens’ work; nor his artistry as an essayist. His last collection of essays, the voluminous Arguably, epitomises this best, but And yet … (the ellipsis is part of the title) a comparatively smaller work, can be best seen as an introductory and indeed less imposing work for anyone curious about Christopher Hitchens.

Concerning those aforementioned, but in particular those who cannot quite be bothered to read his books, feel free to marvel his skill as orator and master-debater through countless clips on YouTube: the most popular of which are invariably to do with his atheism and disdain for theocracy. Indeed it is precisely due to his eloquent heresy that he was able to achieve a prominence typically out-of-reach to most journalists. Admittedly his views as an atheist do not interest me very much and the topic seldom features in either of the aforementioned essay collections, which suits me just fine.
Unfortunately, his success and prominence was swiftly beset by oesophageal cancer, which would eventually kill him. Many – including himself – made the obvious observation that it was not helped by a life-time of drinking, smoking, and other indulgences. Some of his theistic critics have gone even further by suggesting that cancer was God’s punishment for his atheism; particularly how surely it could not be a coincidence that Hitchens would be diagnosed with oesophageal cancer since the most effective way in which he blasphemed was through his voice. In typical fashion – and totally indicative of his sense of humour – Hitchens responded that his voice was ‘not at all the only organ with which I have blasphemed’.
Both collections, Arguably and And yet …, are markedly similar in content; consisting of book reviews (And Yet … is compromised of a third of them) and essays which alternate between topics such as literature, history, and politics. Amongst these big, big topics, are essays which are less lofty yet just as perceptively written. In Arguably, this would be evident by pieces on subjects like ‘Why Women aren’t funny’, sex-scandals, and blowjobs. And yet … follows a similar course of being both high-brow and high-brow with a wink. I won’t go into too much detail but I highly recommend the three-part piece on his experience/endurance of his first male makeover; entitled, ‘On the Limits of Self-improvement’.
Interestingly (for the hardback editions at least) Arguably’s front cover features a hairless and haggard Hitchens defiant against the illness to which would eventually succumb to. However, And yet … features a Hitchens relaxed, seemingly at the height of his fame, and in good company: a cigarette in his hand with a bottle of whiskey and a copy of P.J. Wodehouse’s ‘Jeeves in the morning’ on the table. Chronologically speaking it would make more sense to have the last collection feature Hitchens during his final days. Although for the sake of recalling Hitchens at his most authentic, it would be best for the last book to have him at his best: alive and well.