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Not Hitchens' best
on 4 February 2013
I am a huge fan of Christopher Hitchens and of his idol, George Orwell, but this book does neither justice. Indeed, this book doesn't answer the eponymous question of its title: 'Why Orwell Matters'. Instead, it becomes an over-argued defence of Orwell against his detractors. That said, apart from Raymond Williams, the detractors Hitchens takes issue with are little-known academics who are battled in a surprisingly uninteresting way. I mean, given Orwell's oeuvre, is it of paramount importance to quote lines of forgotten correspondence to prove a feminist academic no-one has ever heard of wrong on a point which is of little interest even to the most diehard Orwell enthusiast?
Hitchens considered himself an authority on George Orwell and it shows here, almost self-consciously so. At times it feels like Hitchens is showing off, proving how much more he knows about Orwell than the detractors (and us for that matter). It's a shame because I have seen / heard Hitchens speak about Orwell on YouTube and he is so much better - he really makes you want to read Orwell. Sadly, this book neither explains why Orwell matters or makes me want to read Orwell. It is over egged and over cooked and the result is a bit stultifying.
I think Hitchens is better suited to shorter essays, rather than this long (200 page) essay book which gets bogged down in the detail of its own argument. I also think, very occasionally, that Hitchens was a bit too literary and floral in his use of language, which is counter to the clarity he so admired in Orwell's writing. At times sentences and paragraphs become hard work and this makes the book a bit of drag.
That said, Hitchens knows Orwell as well as any biographer and this book highlights that.