Christopher Hitchens’s latest book, Mortality, is a collection of essays that were originally published in Vanity Fair during the last year of his life. These essays document his life with cancer and the process that he went through in order to prepare for his death. In this posthumous work, Christopher Hitchens’s voice is unsettlingly vivid and strong. This is to be expected, of course, and it is just as it should be when reading Hitchens. However, the strength of the writing can become too much to bear at times.
Reading this book is an exercise in reconciling two pieces of a puzzle that don’t fit together. The work’s feisty sense of liveliness overpowers the notion that he has passed away. You might even find yourself rooting for Hitchens’s recovery when he writes about how his chemotherapy successfully caused his tumors to recede. With a voice so full of conviction and passion, it becomes all too easy to forget that this is a posthumous release. Not even the grave can tame the voice of Christopher Hitchens.
Writing of how he envisioned his final moment, Hitchens said he wished to actively experience his own death. He didn’t want to quietly pass into non-existence. He wanted death to be something that he could be present for and claim as his own. We can only hope that Christopher Hitchens achieved such a state, and that he was ultimately fulfilled by it. In Mortality, Hitchens looks the grim reaper in the eye and finds that the values of love, struggle, and passion are reflected right back.
- Graham Nicholas