Unhitched: the Trial of Christopher Hitchens By Richard Seymour Verso Counterblast, Pounds 9.99 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop Sectarian and mean-spirited, this far-left attack on the late contrarian author fails to convince
Barely a year after his death by cancer of the oesophagus born with striking stoicism and, as his friend Ian McEwan put it, much consoled by his unbelief, Christopher Hitchens is here arraigned and sentenced for apostasy: for joining the company of the "hard right", the American warmongers, the "Jeffersonian imperialists". Not only that; Richard Seymour traces what he claims to be the seeds of treason and betrayal long germinating in Hitchens's colossal oeuvre.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the far left never forgives defection, nor even mild criticism of its most admired spokespeople. Seymour fairly dances on the fresh grave, convicting the traitor to his own satisfaction not only of friendship with George W Bush's henchmen, but also of not-so-secret power-worship, a long-lurking ratification of the necessities of imperialism, explicit support of Thatcherism, as well as a philistinism in literature best illustrated by an avowed regard for the poetry of Rudyard Kipling.
Seymour is certainly master of the records; he knows the work closely and cites it scrupulously. But his headlong, foam-flecked interpretation, voiced in a manner recklessly close to Hitchens's own but without the grace, the wit, the tearing high spirits and the faultless ear for the fall of a cadence of his great original, becomes merely tedious, repetitive and unconvincing.
Hitchens was far too subtle a historian as well as too boisterous and brutal a controversialist to be accused of being "predictable as hell" or "a sentimentalist" with an approach to politics "profoundly visceral and instinctual". One can only recoil in disgust from someone who first accuses his subject of always seeking to make his enemies appear "unprincipled... mediocre and physically repulsive mountebanks", and who then, smirking, writes "in fairness, Hitchens might have struggled if those standards were applied to him".
Fairness, we soggy liberals' catch-all value, is nowhere in evidence in this shoddy little book. It is no surprise that its author delayed his malediction until his victim was safely out of earshot. He ignores the prodigious prodigality of Hitchens's writing: getting on for 10,000 pages of political reporting and historical analysis, literary criticism, theological polemic, edited collections, autobiography, and (a neglected but necessary genre) elegies for friends and old comrades. Seymour accuses him of dereliction of duty in this regard, but Hitchens is surely exceptional in the affection and loyalty he shows in his books towards a remarkable quintet of lifelong friends: Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, James Fenton, Salman Rushdie, Edward Said. …