His book is rare as an Irish memoir for the lack of rancour about his upbringing. Byrne’s parents emerge as loving, decent people. He doesn’t dwell on this, which makes it all the more convincing. His description of the decline and death of a loved sister is one of the most moving parts of the book. He takes religion seriously and writes vividly about being an altar boy – including his interest in altar wine – and memorably, about deciding, aged 11, that he had a vocation for the priesthood ... But his book has none of the breathlessness of showbusiness autobiography. It is sometimes a dreamy book, lyrical, filled with images of things that slipped by and have faded. He writes passionately about his first love and hilariously about his early fame as an actor ... 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.
... a remarkably intimate new memoir ... neither a victory lap nor a lament from exile. It’s not a bread-crumb trail of dropped names or a laundry list of industry grievances. What it is, instead, is something altogether more artful and complex: a lyrical and unflinching interrogation of the self that just happens to have been written by an award-winning former drinking partner of Richard Burton’s ... Walking with Ghosts is an undeniably sorrowful work, drawn from what seems like a near-bottomless well of pain and regret, but Byrne—self-deprecating to the point of self-flagellation—can also be a wonderfully funny guide, especially when recalling his youthful mishaps ... Seeing brief flashes of this world through Byrne’s bemused eyes is delightful, but for the most part, if you’re looking for salacious details from the film sets and Oscar parties of yesteryear, you’ve picked up the wrong memoir ... Hollywood may have become the backdrop to his life, but Dublin, if only the Dublin of youthful memory, remains the setting, and it’s a world he conjures exquisitely. Byrne’s descriptions of his parents...and the city they inhabited are at the heart of this book, so tenderly and vividly wrought that reading them feels like stepping into someone else’s reverie: a melancholy swaddle of soothing voices and dissolving dreamscapes ... The excavations of Byrne’s early traumas...are stark and heartbreaking ... That he’s been able to alchemize these traumas into something so beautiful feels like deliverance, and reads like a gift.
Sure, Byrne shares a few Hollywood tidbits...But Byrne, who turned 70 last year, has written something more introspective and literary: an elegiac memoir that explores the interior life of a Dublin boy who finds himself almost accidentally — and incidentally — famous. It’s a story about Ireland and exile and carrying the ghosts of family and home through time ... That passage is one of many that show the mark of a real writer, a born storyteller with a poet’s ear. Walking with Ghosts dazzles with unflinching honesty, as it celebrates the exuberance of being alive to the world despite living through pain. His portrait of an artist as a young boy is steeped in nostalgia of the best sort, re-creating the pull of home. In her poem Nostos, Louise Glück writes 'We see the world once, in childhood/The rest is memory.' Somehow Byrne has created that onceness for us ... With this tender book — full of warm and often funny stories — Byrne shows us the depth of his true character.
... his style, though lyrical, is also characterised by the marked shifts in tone that his nonlinear narrative demands ... 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.
[A] 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 ... Religion looms large in this book. He shares humorous and devastating stories about it, made all the more poignant coming from a survivor of clerical sexual abuse. He confronts that horrible time bravely in the book, and it's a blood-boiling read, but necessary all the same, both for reader and writer ... In fact, what emerges most powerfully from this book is the places and people that shaped that actor, with credit in particular due his mother and father, who sounded like a pleasure to be in the company of.
Mortality is clearly weighing heavily on the actor’s mind in this honest and humble second book. His first memoir, Pictures In My Head,was published in 1994. Though some of the same anecdotes crop up in Walking With Ghosts, their telling has been reworked and the 26-year gap between the two has sharpened Byrne’s perception and articulation. There is a general sense that he is arranging, probing and nostalgically gazing at past memories, deriving meaning and learning to accept his own mortality ... Perhaps Byrne’s is a talent borne of decades spent listening, watching, contemplating and emulating 'the theatre of the street', as he refers to it, coupled with an impressive ability to recall phrases years and years after they were spoken. The result is a memoir that pulses with nostalgia and an honesty palpable from the opening pages ... 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.
It feels torn between two editors, shifting non-chronologically from idyllic recollections of an Irish boyhood, alive with nature and church-centered performances, to sardonic stories about showbiz ... It shouldn’t mesh but the In Treatment star is a graceful stylist who candidly describes his sister’s mental illness and his own molestation by a priest while finding elegant connections between childhood longings and adult mistakes.
... an exceptionally lyrical and expressive memoir ... In contrast to magical imagery paying homage to Ireland’s soulful and glorious traditions and history, Byrne’s intimate reflections on everything from the church to the theater also transport readers to impoverished places populated by the proud yet flawed men and women who influenced him in profound and sometimes perverse ways ... Bracingly revealing about his struggle with alcoholism, achingly passionate about the Ireland of his youth, and piercingly frank about his acting life, Byrne is a vivid, evocative, and sumptuously compelling memoirist.
In this intimate memoir, Irish actor Byrne charts his rocky rise to stardom and his battles with alcoholism ... Byrne writes with candor and an exceptional humility, and has an easy hand with clever turns of phrase. Simultaneously frank and emotionally stirring, this memoir entrances.
... he writes with much more depth than the typical celebrity memoirist, accessing some of Heaney’s earthiness and Joyce’s grasp of how Catholic guilt can shape an artist ... There’s no cheerful tone of dues-paying here: Pride isn’t in Byrne’s nature ... Byrne also possesses a winning dry humor that reads as authentically humble ... There’s little in the way of celebrity dishing, but...Byrne is an impressive chronicler of both his eager gulping and his loathing. A melancholy but gemlike memoir, elegantly written and rich in hard experience.