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WALKING WITH GHOSTS by Gabriel Byrne Kirkus Star


by Gabriel Byrne

Pub Date: Jan. 12th, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-8021-5712-6
Publisher: Grove

The acclaimed Irish actor recalls his path to success and the well-cloaked turmoil he faced along the way.

It’d go too far to say that Byrne (b. 1950), star of The Usual Suspects and In Treatment, is as fine a writer as his countrymen James Joyce and Seamus Heaney. However, he writes with much more depth than the typical celebrity memoirist, accessing some of Heaney’s earthiness and Joyce’s grasp of how Catholic guilt can shape an artist. Growing up in Dublin, he aspired at first to be a priest, seduced by images of “young lads with dodgy haircuts, beatific smiles gazing heavenward to answer the call to the priesthood.” But a priest’s sexual assault soured him on the church, and he stumbled through a variety of menial jobs, including a stint as “a toilet attendant at a major Dublin hotel.” There’s no cheerful tone of dues-paying here: Pride isn’t in Byrne’s nature (he saw it drown a childhood friend who died bragging he could hold his breath). The author grew up with a schizophrenic sister who died young, developed a slow-growing alcoholism, and feared abject failure. The sudden success of The Usual Suspects left him with “such tumult in my mind I was afraid I would fall down and be found weeping in the street.” Despite the darkness, Byrne also possesses a winning dry humor that reads as authentically humble: his mother finding ways to cut him down to size in public by sharing embarrassing childhood stories, the time he had to audition for Hamlet using a motorcycle helmet for Yorick’s skull. There’s little in the way of celebrity dishing, but the author shares a boozy conversation with Sir Richard Burton, who cautioned him that fame is “a sweet poison you drink of first in eager gulps. Then you come to loathe it.” Byrne is an impressive chronicler of both his eager gulping and his loathing.

A melancholy but gemlike memoir, elegantly written and rich in hard experience.