Defending Philip Larkin from his critics, Christopher Hitchens said that readers loved him because he understood everyday suffering. He mapped ‘decaying communities, old people’s homes, housing estates and clinics’ better than most social democrats. While dying is often referred to as ‘going down hill’, Larkin, Hitchens saw, realised that debilitation is not an easy glide to oblivion but an exhausting climb of ‘extinction’s alp’.
Hitchens’s account of his climb to extinction is Larkinesque, and not only because his sentences stay in the mind as firmly as good poetry. Hitchens maps the world of intensive care. Not without regret, he dismisses those who pretend they can soften its horrors, including perhaps his younger self. A