ALL DOWN DARKNESS WIDE, Seán Hewitt’s splendid new memoir, is haunted by ghosts. “Everything, once you start to look,” he observes, “is haunted.” There are the ghosts of a Catholic faith he abandoned; the ghost of his dead father; the ghost of the gay Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, his poetic mentor; the ghost of the once grand city of Liverpool, “dragging itself up out of its own grave”; and the ghost of Hewitt’s closeted gay youth. (Indeed, in British slang, he tells us, “ghost” is another name for a closeted gay man.) But most of all, the ghost that haunts this beautiful and quietly eerie book is that of Hewitt’s love affair with a young Swedish man named Elias.
The two of them meet while Hewitt is on a postgraduate trip to South America. With his tanned skin, long, dark brown hair, and a confident sociability that puts everyone at ease, Elias quickly attracts Hewitt’s interest. He decides he wants to be near Elias, to “fall under his warmth.” Before too long, they fall in love, quickly achieving the sort of intimacy that would normally have taken a year to develop.
Returning home, Hewitt can’t focus on his work. In a few months, he’s supposed to move to Liverpool to begin a PhD. Feeling that what he and Elias had together was “too precious to let practicalities get in the way,” he takes a budget flight to Sweden. He hopes that Elias will be the person to “complement and adjust” everything he himself lacks.