Volume 3, Issue 4, (Originally Published on Monday 25th March 2013)
Time flies when one is having fun, or when one is doing a law degree. To illustrate: for those of you in my year (Class of 2013), we were first-years when Christopher Hitchens passed away at the end of 2011.
Mortality is a compilation of Hitchens’ writings before his death. He has never failed to make us doubt ourselves on diverse subjects, from God and religion to whether women make better comedians than men. But here Hitchens tackles the bigger picture, as the title of his book succinctly summarises. What is mortality, after all? Perhaps when reduced to a question, it is simply this: what the heck am I doing here?
Hitchens seems to have a direct answer. He is here to argue for the things he stands for. One thing that Mortality impresses upon the reader is just how authentically and utterly Hitchens it is. True, this is not an essay on the Iraq War or why God is not great (well, it kind of is about that), but the writing in Mortality is full of the usual Hitchens wit: in response to some Christian’s strange criticism that God had given him oesophageal cancer because of his blaspheming, Hitchens replies that his throat is not the only organ he has blasphemed with. It is also a poignant read: Hitchens does not spare us the details of his suffering, such as when he describes his inability to talk. Such passages are also quintessentially Hitchens, as one admires Hitchens not only for his skilful prose, but also his bravery and unflinching honesty when he writes.
Mortality is a moving read. But what direction should it move us in? Certainly one should feel a little melancholy and in need of a little silence, now that Hitchens is no longer with us to challenge and enrich our world. But at the same time, perhaps a round of applause is appropriate as you put down Mortality: it has been a privilege for all of us to have had Christopher Hitchens around.