It was the ’80’s in Thatcher’s England and a group of young writers was pushing to the forefront with their unconventional and interesting writing. I had read Ian McEwan’s “The Cement Garden” and Martin Amis’ “The Rachel Papers” and little did I know I had embarked on a long literary love affair with both men. Still in college, I was required to write a paper on a book that hadn’t been translated into Italian and I settled on “The Rachel Papers”. While spending the Summer in London, I even went so far as to send a letter to Mr. Amis, care of Penguin and, amazingly, on my last day in town, I got a phone call from the writer himself, inviting me over to his house to chat about his book.
Fat chance of that happening now, nearly 30 years later. I splurged on a taxi and I reached Ladbroke Grove with some trepidation but Mr. Amis, opening the door to his new house which, judging from the fresh paint and the minimal furniture looked as if he had just moved in, showed me to the overstuffed couch, offered me a glass of wine and charmingly answered all my questions. My paper turned out great and I went on to read every book he wrote ever since.
To Christopher Hitchens, I got much later in life. I don’t quite remember what piece made me fall in love with his writing, but in love did I fall. And like all love affairs, my reader/writer relationship with Hitchens was rife with disagreements, maddening stomping off and make-up sessions. Part of that same golden generation of British writers who, for better or worse, came to represent my generation, Hitchens was a opinionist, journalist and essayist it was hard to agree with at times but the force of his ideas, his standing by them with lucid logic and his wordplay commanded respect, if not always agreement.
The papers will say that Mr. Hitchens lost his battle with pancreatic cancer today. He fully knew this time was coming and he approached it with the same fierceness that characterized his writing. His columns in Vanity Fair (a magazine I tend to avoid for a bizarre antipathy towards Graydon Carter’s hair) dealt with his disease and its effects without a trace of self-pity or redeeming qualities. Unapologetic in his atheism, he gave me the final push towards believing that there is no point in believing.
I will not be alone in missing his vitriolic, reasoned, provocative and precise writing. He said that “if you can talk, you can write”, a point that could be argued. In his case, though, he did both beautifully.