Memory can play nasty tricks on one. I "discovered" Anthony

Lane long before Tina Brown, for instance: he was the film reviewer

for the Independent on Sunday before he moved to the New

Yorker, and I always loved his reviews there. I especially remember

his review of London

Kills Me, Hanif Kureishi’s regrettable move from writing into

direction. A masterpiece of comedic criticism, it left both subject

and reader helpless on the floor, although, of course, for different

reasons. It ranks up there with Clive James’s review of Princess

Daisy, by Judith Krantz, where at least he has the good manners

to pause at one point and say that attacking such a book is a bit

like kicking a powder-puff. (Sidenote: while going to Amazon to provide

you, gentle reader, with a URL for the bonkbuster, Seattle’s most

famous bookstore tells me that "Felix, you’ll love this!"

with a predicted rating of 4.5 stars out of a maximum five.When I

ask Amazon why, it tells me that it’s because I bought Paris

to the Moon, by New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik. Huh?)

But London Kills Me came out a long time ago, and I’ve long

since lost the review (actually, I lent it to Purni Mukherjee, and

she never gave it back). And when I finally asked a friend with Lexis-Nexis

access to email me a copy of the review, it turned out to be much

shorter, and much less funny, than I had remembered.

So it was with trepidation that I opened my brand-new copy of Unacknowledged

Legislation, the new book from Christopher Hitchens. I ordered

it from the library, and was particularly looking forward to rereading

Hitchens’ article on Oscar Wilde, which had first appeared in Vanity

Fair and which I had loved. As luck would have it, the article was

the first thing in the book. And was I disappointed? Not a bit. It’s

all of five pages in the book, but I daresay it’s the best single

thing that has ever been written about Wilde. I urge you all to go

out to your nearest bookstore and read it: it doesn’t take long to

read five pages.

Of course, a lot of the piece is given over to Wilde himself, who

naturally shines in his own words much more brightly than he ever

does in the words of others. But quoting a genius to good effect is

harder than it looks. And some of the quotations are not nearly as

familiar as you might think. I’ll leave you with this one, if only

because the subject of the death penalty in the United States is getting

a lot of coverage at the moment:

As one reads history … one is absolutely sickened,

not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments

that the good have inflicted; and a community is infinitely more brutalised

by the habitual employment of punishment, than it is by the occasional

occurrence of crime.

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One Response to Hitchens

  1. Graham says:

    Hi Felix,

    Memory is paying you back at all times and saying that it is costly, is a bit hard to digest.
    Graham from armoire chambre porte coulissante 

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