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ALL DOWN DARKNESS WIDE by Seán Hewitt Kirkus Star


A Memoir

by Seán Hewitt

Pub Date: July 12th, 2022
ISBN: 978-0-593-30008-4
Publisher: Penguin Press

A poet recounts his relationship with a man suffering from paralyzing depression.

When Hewitt, who “was brought up vaguely Catholic,” grew up in 1990s and 2000s England, he felt he needed to show “that I was good, that I was kind, that I followed the rules” because “I had a secret to keep.” The secret was that he was gay at a time when the Catholic Church railed against an equal marriage rights bill passing through Parliament. That is only one of the many challenges Hewitt chronicles in this stunning memoir. The death of a boyfriend when Hewitt attended the University of Cambridge made him think of Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose poem “The Lantern Out of Doors” provides this book’s title. Hopkins, a gay man and Dublin priest, is a primary influence in Hewitt’s life. Hewitt frequently references him and “the boundaries blurring between Hopkins’s work and the life I was in,” especially during the narrative centerpiece: his post-Cambridge relationship with Elias, a young Swedish man he met on a trip to Colombia. The bulk of this book describes Elias and Hewitt’s years together, first in Liverpool and then in Sweden, and Elias’ descent from someone “confident and chatty and open” to a man who required an extended stay in a psychiatric hospital after contemplating suicide. Scenes in which Hewitt and others try to nurse Elias back to health are among the most memorable. This memoir is a heartbreaking disquisition on “ghosts” like Hopkins and on the unattainability of permanence, and it features one beautiful scene after another, from the patient at the psychiatric hospital who laments that his son never visits and, when he sees Hewitt, says, “I knew you’d come”; to Hewitt’s own father, who, on his deathbed, confided, “All I want is my boys….As long as I can still be with my boys, and can still sit in the garden and hear the birds. That’s all I want.”

A profoundly moving meditation on queer identity, mental illness, and the fragility of life.