Synopsis, purchase information, and excerpts from reviews of the book
Available for purchase in hardback, ebook, and audiobook formats at Picador, an imprint of Pan Macmillan Press
As a young boy growing up in the outskirts of Dublin, Gabriel Byrne sought refuge in a world of imagination among the fields and hills near his home, at the edge of a rapidly encroaching city. Born to working-class parents and the eldest of six children, he harboured a childhood desire to become a priest. When he was eleven years old, Byrne found himself crossing the Irish Sea to join a seminary in England. Four years later, Byrne had been expelled and he quickly returned to his native city. There he took odd jobs as a messenger boy and a factory labourer to get by. In his spare time he visited the cinema, where he could be alone and yet part of a crowd. It was here that he could begin to imagine a life beyond the grey world of ’60s Ireland.
He revelled in the theatre and poetry of Dublin’s streets, populated by characters as eccentric and remarkable as any in fiction, those who spin a yarn with acuity and wit. It was a friend who suggested Byrne join an amateur drama group, a decision that would change his life forever and launch him on an extraordinary forty-year career in film and theatre. Moving between sensual recollection of childhood in a now almost vanished Ireland and reflections on stardom in Hollywood and on Broadway, Byrne also courageously recounts his battle with addiction and the ambivalence of fame.
Walking with Ghosts is by turns hilarious and heartbreaking as well as a lyrical homage to the people and landscapes that ultimately shape our destinies.
Walking with Ghosts: Gabriel Byrne is unsparing of himself in memoir. Reviewed by Colm Tóibín for The Irish Times, November 21, 2020
At the core of the book, however, is not his fame but something much darker and more elusive. Walking with Ghosts is an attempt to come to terms with the very elements that have created some of Byrne’s best performances, elements that come from pain and have caused pain. Byrne is unsparing of himself in the telling of this story . . .
It is not just unusual for an actor to write about himself in the way Byrne does, but for anyone at all. Thus, it is hard to place Walking with Ghosts in the tradition of Irish memoir. What is striking is the intensity of the introspection. Byrne works with the idea that if you want to know where the damage lies, look inwards, describe the intimate, hidden spaces within the self. There is something fresh and liberating about this, a feeling also that it must have been a challenging book to write.
Byrne has written his own long day’s journey, and has won the right to end his book on a high note as, in the last line, he walks out on to the stage, into the light.
Walking with Ghosts: Gabriel Byrne delivers profound reflection on mortality and memories. Reviewed by Mia Colleran for Independent.ie, November 14, 2020
Irish readers won’t take as much note, but the memoir is tuned to a Hiberno-English ear; his use of dialogue is playful and pulsing, carrying the stories along and allowing the reader to become acquainted with the characters instead of reading flat accounts of things passed and said. He has a sparse, sometimes wry tone that lends itself to the filmic qualities of the memoir; memories mostly fade in and out as vignettes with minimal authorial input. It is often easy to forget that this is the man who starred in the film The Usual Suspects, which received a 10-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival in 1995. The unobtrusive addition of some advice he received from his hero, Laurence Olivier, or that time John Boorman offered him a leading role in Excalibur are comical when compared with his earlier stories of his nativity-play acting debut and flying to Venice with a plastic bag because he had pawned his suitcase.
Some celebrity memoirs have a penchant to exclude the reader, “here is my dazzling career” they seem to say, but Walking With Ghosts is nothing of the sort. Its tone is “here is my life, make of it what you will”. Byrne arrives at a truth greater than an honest and sensitive memoir; he verges on a profoundly touching articulation of our short time on earth, time that will make of each of us nothing more or less than a ghost.
Shared on Twitter by Gaby Quattromini, November 13, 2020
Walking With Ghosts by Gabriel Byrne review – an elegy for Ireland. Reviewed by Sean O’Hagan for The Guardian, November 23, 2020
Walking With Ghosts is affecting on many levels: a working-class family memoir as well as a meditation on fame and its discontents. His love for, and loss of, his parents is palpable and likewise the loss of his beloved sister Marian, whom he takes back to Dublin after she suffers a breakdown in London. In New York, he answers the phone to a soft Irish voice that tells him of her passing: “‘Passing where?’ I asked foolishly.”
These are the ghosts that stalk this poetic, but often starkly vivid, memoir. In Byrne’s evoking of them, they are as alive on the page as they are in his consciousness. And, in the act of writing, he comes to a deeper understanding of the secrets that they held close in a culture that was the opposite of our own: tight-lipped, parochial, perhaps suffocating, but also quietly decent and dignified.
Gabriel Byrne’s powerful memoir tells of Ghosts of his life with dark humour. Reviewed by Eoghan Harris for Independent.ie, November 15, 2020
Gabriel Byrne’s Walking With Ghosts, a far cry from the usual ghost-written, humble-bragging of great actors, is destined to be a classic. Slow to judge others, he does not spare himself for what he sees as his failure to connect with those he loved most.
But this memoir is not all dark nights of the soul. Those looking for cameos of his movie life will not be disappointed.
On first reading, Byrne’s memoir seems to flow along because it’s structured like a screenplay – short scenes, cuts and dissolves. But it really flows because Byrne is as good a writer as he is an actor. . .
Byrne doesn’t do the politically correct thing by ‘forgiving’ the priest. He lets that empty life end as it will. Despite his role as a therapist in the television series In Treatment, Byrne is less a Freudian than a Byrneian – someone who has learned a lot about human nature from his own life.
His rejection of revenge on the priest is almost as moving as his harrowing account of the death of his mother. The priest didn’t get the harsh justice he deserved. His mother did not get the good life she deserved.
What makes Gabriel Byrne a great writer is that he knows that whether we are wicked or good, few of us get what we deserve.
Reviewed: Walking with Ghosts by Gabriel Byrne. Reviewed by Aiofe O’Regan for RTÉ Culture – Books, December 1, 2020
In an early chapter of Walking with Ghosts, Gabriel Byrne cites his vivid imagination as one of his strong suits, perhaps a trait that led to him becoming one of our most treasured actors, a veteran of the screen and stage. It also stands to him strongly in this melancholic and poetic memoir . . .
What’s clear from the outset is that Byrne possesses that rare ability not just to identify meaningful moments but to recount them in an engaging way. Perhaps owing to his profession, some of his recollections feel very cinematic – observing a farmer ploughing the field as he looks on with his father for instance; ‘I carry that day like a photograph in my heart’. Now, so do we.