Christopher Hitchens’s final offering to print, before his untimely death in December of 2011, was a collection of book reviews gathered under the title of Arguably. The collection begs for the reader to insert their own adjective: Arguably Stubborn? Arguably Political? Arguably Great? The book is certainly all of these things and more.
Having alienated many of his left-wing supporters in 2001, following the US led invasion of Afghanistan, Hitchens takes his adopted home as the opening subject of this collection. Indeed, though the articles were written over a number of years, the thematic layout of this anthology makes for a more coherent narrative to Hitchens’s work; the display of knowledge concerning American political and constitutional history appears to be as much a raised two-fingers to his British detractors as a demonstration of his assimilation into American society, which he joined in 1981.
What is remarkable, as we progress through the initial reviews and into the meat of the collection, is Hitchens’s sheer breadth of knowledge. His ability to turn effortlessly from Nabokov’s controversial masterpiece, Lolita, to Edmund Burkes’s political theorising, all the way to the only-partially ironic essay Why Women Aren’t Funny, without the sense at any point that he is too far stretched, is a joy to read.
However, it is not the astute critical analysis nor the display of intellectual curiosity that keeps me returning to these pages, although these are abound in the text, it is Hitchens’s rapier-like wit which makes this collection so unforgettable. Closing his review of Updike’s post-September 11th novel The Terrorist, Hitchens writes: ‘Given some admittedly stiff competition, Updike has produced one of the worst pieces of writing from any grown-up source since the event he has so unwisely tried to draw upon’.
The condescending use of the term ‘grown-up’, an ironic play on the childish term of respect, creates the stinging bathos of this assault; placed then against the term ‘unwisely’ and Hitchens’s initial sucker punch is followed by a well-aimed blow. Such subtly humorous, yet damning, prose could only have been produced from the pen of the most keenly critical man of a generation, Arguably Hitchens.
W. J. Humphries