In his searching memoir, All Down Darkness Wide, Trinity College Dublin academic Seán Hewitt (J.M. Synge: Nature, Politics, Modernism) makes his fraught relationship with a Swedish man named Elias a lens for examining how mental health issues affect queer poets coming to terms with their sexuality. The book's unforgettable opening is set in the Liverpool graveyard where Hewitt had assignations with anonymous men: "Meeting men at night, all those years, I let the ghost inside me out." His secret self, suppressed in the closet during his teenage years, flies out to meet other ghosts: his college boyfriend, Jack; the gay men lost to AIDS during Hewitt's childhood in the 1990s; and the English poet and priest Gerard Manley Hopkins, believed to have suppressed his sexuality and from whose work Hewitt took inspiration and the memoir's title phrase.
Chief among the memoir's spectral presences is Elias, Hewitt's former partner. The two meet on vacation in Colombia and live together in Elias's native Sweden. Elias struggles with depression and, on his birthday one year, shelters in his family's summerhouse with pills and alcohol, intending to take his own life. A nail-biting sequence ensues as Hewitt and Elias's father race to intervene. It is a moment of rupture. The mood shifts from tense to introspective in the aftermath, with the author and a recovering Elias collaborating on translating the work of lesbian Swedish poet Karin Boye, who died by suicide.
Blending biography and history with raw personal experience, this memoir is as lyrically written as any book of poetry and advocates for self-expression as a route out of sadness. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck