Actually, I just finished reading it. I read it mostly for the literary gossip, for Hitchens' high-style, and for the man's remarkable erudition. What I didn't especially read it for was the political backdrop, which it must be said, probably doesn't predispose me towards the book, considering how much of it is about the author's political development.
Hitchens is worth hearing on most things. Still, I don't sit on the same side of the political fence as he does, and I was amused that he'd take umbrage to Julian Barnes's snipe that he'd made 'the ritual shuffle to the Right.' What's revealed is that Hitchens tendency to snobbery was always there, that he's the product of an English Public school (read, 'private' in the US) and that the intellectual condescension was always going to unpack itself eventually. Probably he is the most fearsome debater in the public intellectual realm today - though what I noted in reading this is that he uses a familiar tactic, i.e. stating something with such authority that to attempt to repudiate it already marks one as foolish, regardless of argument. It's a 'tactic' I've often been guilty of employing myself - to state something so that the act of saying it makes it incontrovertible, at least in the moment.
I Am The Proletariat
Hitchens describes his mother's social climbing aspirations (without convincing anyone that the leaf really didn't fall very far, etc), and describes a visit to a babysitter's 'council house' (i.e. public house) in Fifeshire. The babysitter is describes as a 'large, ruddy motherly proletarian.' Hers is the kind of home in which the lavatory is referred to as the 'toilet,' and in which dinner is called 'tea.' The dinner itself is described thus, 'a meat and potato fest, rammed home with a mug of sweet brown nectar.' There is much 'hilarity' at the expense of the woman's unsophisticated husband, who on occasion eats from his knife...
Fifeshire is in the northern British Isles. I too am from the north, and this all reads familiar to me. About which I feel no shame. I still have no compunction about using the word 'toilet.' It's more accurate to me than the word 'bathroom' - I've been directed to many a 'bathroom,' a room in which I've usually found nothing to bathe in. It's not the 'proles' who lack dignity in this particular tale, nor in the telling of it.
James Fenton and the Postscript.
The book is dedicated to the poet James Fenton. Along the way, Hitchens credits and thanks Fenton for introducing him to the twin pleasures of cigarettes and booze. A cruel twist of fate then that soon after publication of the book, Hitchens was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus - the same disease that killed Hitchens's own father. One wonders how Fenton feels about that section of the book now...