DDW reads All Down Darkness Wide the new memoir from acclaimed poet Seán Hewitt exploring queer existence, connection, and loss.
Devastation is at the heart of Seán Hewitt’s newly published memoir ‘All Down Darkness Wide’. From Merseyside to Peru and Gothenburg to Cambridge, an oil slick of placid trauma drips throughout this account of Hewitt’s life. It covers each setting and its immediate surroundings with a viscous layer of pollution, in Hewitt’s own reality and for those resonant moments in a reader’s own life. At a swift 240 pages, All Down Darkness Wide documents the jet-black sheen that haunts the life of the now 32-year-old Seán Hewitt using defining sexual experiences, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and those now lost.
Overwhelming and grounding, ‘All Down Darkness Wide’ feels like London in 29-degree heat. It’s a compelling and compulsive experience. The pain experienced by Hewitt is all-encompassing but slow in its ascent. Visions of St James’s Cemetery on a winter night begin the novel. Powerful gusts of wind and cool concrete offer a material sense of frigidity but a particular bodily experience.
Hewitt’s narrative power is bewitching – guiding a reader through the almost emotional journey of a gust of wind from the River Mersey to St Vincent’s, and finally to the image of author Seán Hewitt alone drinking from the restorative water that ran through the old cemetery wall. “Some in the city believe in its healing powers,” writes Hewitt, “I, like others, held closer to a different truth: that the water contains the souls of the dead”.
Like every relationship Hewitt describes throughout the memoir, the connection crafted between author and reader is measured yet somehow instantaneous. A reader is invited into the emotionally charged archives of Hewitt’s queer personal history as if it were that of distant cousin or a sudden close friend.
Sex is recorded briefly and objectively with linguistic compression that reflects the occasionally emotionless rapid succession of events. An encounter with an unnamed kickboxing instructor in the St James’s Cemetery uses only 65 words. It’s the queer antithesis of the romanticised sensuality popularised by Call Me By Your Name. For many readers, Hewitt’s experience is much more resonant.
“Later, he would text me asking if my name was Ryan”, writes Hewitt. “He had mistaken (whether accidentally or wilfully, I can’t tell) my face in the dark for that of one of his students.” A moment typical of one-night encounters or even a simple flirtation at a bar is elevated and dripped with new meaning those who have ever been in love will undoubtedly understand. “I suppose we are all, at some point,” concludes Hewitt, “taking the face of some ideal lover into our mind and placing it like a mask on to the person in front of us”.
The masks haunting Hewitt are those of Jack and Elias, “or another boy, or all of them merged into a new form.” These relationships, and that of his father, prove central to his life and provide the primary narratives for All Down Darkness Wide. Moments of utter devastation are experienced through them, such as discovering the death of someone you hold dear on the internet or peeling an orange in mourning.
A three-chapter arc focuses on Hewitt meeting, falling in love with, and suffering alongside his erstwhile partner Elias. Precisely rendered moments of lesser-known experience may make this a difficult read for anyone with personal experience of loss, mental health or time spent supporting a loved one suffering.
All Down Darkness Wide is a preternatural work rendering grief, depression, and post-university malaise in clear focus for everyone to see. Joining the likes of Joan Didion and Olivia Laing, Hewitt has arrived fully formed as a genre-defining memoirist skilled in the craft of honesty and self-document.
All Down Darkness Wide may expound Hewitt’s own reality and the anxieties and fears he has faced, but the assumption is that you may have too. All Down Darkness Wide offers companionship in a market flooded by incommunicable, isolating, and didactic nonfiction, with Hewitt joining the likes of Joan Didion and Olivia Laing in crafting a truly honest and reader-focused self-document.
All Down Darkness Wide by Seán Hewitt is published by Jonathon Cape and Penguin Books and is available now in Hardback, E-Book and Audiobook. All Down Darkness Wide is the second artistic offering from Seán Hewitt, following the acclaimed Laurel Prize-winning poetry debut, Tongues of Fire