Named a Best Book of July by Buzzfeed * A Publishers Weekly Best Nonfiction 2022 Summer Read * Observer Book of the Week
By turns devastating and soaring, an ambitious memoir debut from one of Irish literature’s rising stars
When Seán Hewitt meets Elias, the two fall headlong into a love story. But as Elias struggles with severe mental illness, they soon come face-to-face with crisis.
All Down Darkness Wide is a perceptive and unflinching meditation on the burden of living in a world that too often sets happiness and queer life at odds, and a tender and honest portrayal of what it’s like to be caught in the undertow of a loved one’s deep depression. As lives are made and unmade, this memoir asks what love can endure and what it cannot.
Delving into his own history, enlisting the ghosts of queer figures before him, Hewitt plumbs the darkness in search of answers. From a nineteenth-century cemetery in Liverpool to a sacred grotto in the Pyrenees, it is a journey of lonely discovery followed by the light of community. Haunted by the rites of Catholicism and spectres of shame, it is nevertheless marked by an insistent search for beauty.
Hewitt captures transcendent moments in nature with exquisite lyricism, honours the power of reciprocated desire and provides a master class in the incredible force of unsparing specificity. All Down Darkness Wide illuminates a path ahead for queer literature and for the literature of heartbreak, striking a piercing and resonant chord for all who trace Hewitt’s dauntless footsteps.
About the Author
Seán Hewitt was born in 1990. He is the author of J. M. Synge: Nature, Politics, Modernism and the poetry collection Tongues of Fire, which was awarded the Laurel Prize and was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, the John Pollard Foundation International Poetry Prize and a Dalkey Literary Award. He is the recipient of a Northern Writers’ Award, the Resurgence Prize and an Eric Gregory Award. Hewitt is a book critic for the Irish Times and teaches modern British and Irish literature at Trinity College Dublin.
“Rapturous . . . even his depictions of cruising have a holy aura. As a dedicated nonfiction writer, I sometimes meet poets’ memoirs with a caginess that is utterly disgraced by a book like this, whose structure is nearly as immaculate as its sentences . . . Writing is always an act of translation, and Hewitt beautifully illuminates his own darknesses so that we might also see our own.” —Melissa Febos, The New York Times Book Review
“Unique and singularly captivating . . . this memoir is gripping and deserves to be read by anyone looking for some hope in these especially dark times.” —David Vogel, Buzzfeed
“Exquisitely written . . . In both the rhythms of his sentences and what he relays, Hewitt places himself firmly in an established British literary tradition . . . Though a study of despair, the memoir is not despairing . . . His call, framed by the poets to whom he feels so profoundly connected, as well as by his own family, is radical, a fervent appeal for presence and belonging.” —Claire Messud, Harper’s Magazine
“Vibrates off the page . . . It would be inaccurate to suggest the story is ultimately redemptive. As the memoir proceeds, however, it does so with a discernible sense of opening out, of Hewitt moving away from the shadows.” —Michael Donkor, The Guardian
“Luminous . . . This book will be passed hand to hand, as it should be . . . Hewitt's journey into the underworld is, in the end, all about finding words, and the ones he has unearthed are sure to linger with readers.” —Tim Pfaff, Bay Area Reporter
“Extraordinary . . . Hewitt pulls the reader in, knows how to charm. He is, before and after everything else, a romantic . . . powerful and affecting.” —Kate Kellaway, The Guardian
“Makes you want to underline, again and again . . . an immense feat of both imagination and empathy.” —Luke Warde, Sunday Independent
“Poignant and painful, rigorous and sensual . . . Hewitt has forged a life-enhancing memoir . . . an outstanding chronicle of a gay poet’s journey of self-discovery.” —Michael Arditti, The Spectator
“Stunning . . . enrapturing in its beauty: a rare queer book where the trauma at its heart feels healing.” —Douglas Greenwood, i-D
“Excellent . . . There is such a casual beauty to his images and metaphors that this reads less like words on a page and closer to torrents of water washing over you . . . a robust and mellifluous text that feels joyous to read . . . A stunning meditation on love and heartbreak, this feels like an essential work of the new Irish queer canon.” —Barry Pierce, The Times (UK)
“Searching . . . unforgettable . . . as lyrically written as any book of poetry.” —Rebecca Foster, Shelf Awareness
“Stunning . . . This memoir is a heartbreaking disquisition on ‘ghosts’ like Hopkins and on the unattainability of permanence, and it features one beautiful scene after another . . . A profoundly moving meditation on queer identity, mental illness, and the fragility of life.” —Kirkus (starred review)
“This book bears reading twice it is so beautiful. Readers seeking an elegant, profound memoir will find none better than this. Highly recommended.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“A raw and hypnotic retelling reminiscent of Garth Greenwell’s Cleanness . . . a moving story of salvation . . . an exquisite vision of queer heartbreak and liberation.” —Publishers Weekly
“Seán Hewitt's book is a beautiful, complex, and textured meditation on love, on growing up gay, on becoming a poet and on inhabiting Northern landscapes in winter. His account of falling in love and being in love is honest and vivid, doing justice to dark experience, offering the most private moments a sort of glow. I was engrossed, hardly looking up as I read. I woke in the morning fully enclosed by it, as though I had been dreaming it.” —Colm Tóibín, author of The Magician “A wondrous act of recollection: flickering yet sonorous, elemental, humid, full of ache, flecked with ironic comedy. Hewitt makes shimmering magic from shame and shyness, through his own whispered disclosures as well as the echoes of other authors. This book arrives as if it was there all along, foxed and dog-eared from the first page.” —Jeremy Atherton Lin, author of Gay Bar
“Seán Hewitt’s memoir is extraordinarily beautiful (I mean that adverb: it is extra-ordinary) and moving and humane; it is the best new work of nonfiction I’ve read in years.” —Sarah Perry, author ofThe Essex Serpent
“The book in your hands is a precious, living thing, each page alive with ache and with love, with truth and with tenderness. To read Seán Hewitt is to experience the rare jolt of encountering a writer whose work will continue to be treasured long after our lifetimes. A wonder.” —Doireann Ní Ghríofa, author of A Ghost in the Throat
"All Down Darkness Wide is a searing and sublime account of the scars left by intolerance and how they shape a self. Hewitt’s gorgeous prose gleams like a dayspring in the dimness, his story lingering long after the book is closed.” —Melissa Harrison, author of All Among the Barley
“All Down Darkness Wide lures you in with the beauty of its prose, the poetic images that linger hauntingly in the mind for long afterwards. Difficult stories of mental illness, repression, and self-denial are transfigured into something defiant and life-affirming. I loved the complexity of it, the way he subtly reveals how our fragile identities are formed (and de-formed) by the forces that surround us.” —Charlie Gilmour, author of Featherhood
“Gorgeous and moving prose that excavates the deep complexities of grief, shame and love with a tenderness and lightness of touch that makes the words sing.” —Andrew McMillan, author of Physical
“It’s impossible not to be intensely moved by this book, written with a poet’s eye for detail: line after line that grips head and heart. You are truly there with Seán Hewitt in the darkness and the light. His memoir of queer discovery, loves found and lost, the past that we carry with us, and ultimately of becoming, feels like a future classic.” —Niven Govinden, author of Diary of a Film “Luminous and utterly original, a book with its own darkly beautiful gravity. I can't think of anything I have read like it—in terms of style and sensibility, and emotional daring.” —Niamh Campbell, author of This Happy