“Here I stand now, a man longing to see as a child again, when every smell and sound and sight was a marvel.”
Gabriel Byrne is possibly not a household name to you. Perhaps you looked at the cover and said, “oh yeah, I remember that guy!” As a very prolific actor, odds are you’ve seen a handful of films spanning over the past 40 or so years. Many of those have been great films. The Usual Suspects, The Man in the Iron Mask, and Hereditary to name a few. Though his role had very little screen time, I first grew to love Byrne after seeing 1994’s Little Women. For some reason, his kindly portrayal of the quiet, unimposing but fiercely intelligent Friedrich Bhaer stuck with me. Perhaps because it seemed like such an authentic character for this man whose entire demeanor seemed to seethe with intelligence and introspection.
Byrne will turn 71 coming up in May, and his memoir is a thing of beauty. I haven’t read a great many celebrity memoirs, but some of the ones I have read simply feel like a recitation of their careers. I’ve acted in all these movies, let’s recap, yay for me! There’s nothing really wrong with that, but I believe that lacks an air of authenticity. Acting is your job, and maybe you’re very good at it, but I want to peel back the curtain and see a little vulnerability. If you feel the same way about memoir, then this book is something you should read. It’s not without its faults, but it is exceptionally moving and lyrical. Byrne has a way with words. He’s a natural storyteller, though his style takes some getting used to.
This memoir feels like sitting down with someone older and wiser than you and just letting them talk (especially if you listen to the audio narrated by the author like I did.) It’s very personal. It’s very stream of consciousness. He tends to jump around from time to time as if one story simply reminds him of another point in his life. Oh, by the way, let me tell you about the time I looked like an idiot in front of Olivier. These stories are raw and contain an intense vulnerability. They are alternately humorous and tragic. He quite candidly talks about his boyhood experiences with abuse and molestation at the hands of Catholic officials during the period he was convinced the priesthood was his calling. He talks about loss and shame, challenges to his introversion, and the utter fear and panic that accompanied the sudden onset of fame.
Frankly, this is what a memoir should be. It’s a collection of memories of the moments that define a life. Not just the good, happy memories, but the ones that traumatized and twisted the self. The ones you want to push to the back of your mind so that the world never knows they exist. It’s bearing the weight of the things you did for which you aren’t proud, and the weight of the things that were done to you that you still carry like dents in your armor. Power is in embracing the truth of your life. And courage is in putting them on paper for the world to see.
It’s easy for us to look at celebrities and think they have it all. But money and fame often bring isolation and loneliness. Memoirs like Walking with Ghosts show the very human side of fame. The only quibble I had was that sometimes I had trouble viewing everything in chronological order due to the narrative style. It was hard to pinpoint exactly when in his life and career some events happened. However, I listened to this while I was majorly multitasking by cleaning and organizing a room at home, and I sort of regret that. It means I finished it in two days, but I don’t feel I gave it 100% of the attention it deserved, as it’s one of those that deserves to have every word savored. So, if you get to read this, really pay attention. There is 70 years worth of wisdom packed into this book, and it’s worth it.
Pub. date: Jan 12 2021 by Recorded Books; ASIN B08NTW1BND; Runtime 6 hrs, 57 min, Read by the author.