In a career spanning 35 years, Ethan Hawke has done it all. Known to most as an actor and filmmaker, it may come as a surprise to some to know that the four-time Oscar-nominee is also an accomplished novelist, and 2021 is kicking off with his first full novel in nearly 20 years – the powerful and unforgettable A Bright Ray of Darkness.
The blistering story follows William Harding, an actor in torment struggling to balance his Broadway debut with the implosion of his marriage to a rock star. While it is abundantly clear that Hawke has written his understanding of fame, celebrity and theatre into the narrative, the novel’s core themes of redemption are universally human. The book is a poignant examination of life and all the mess that comes with it. Tenderness and heart come from the snapshots of Harding’s attempts to bond with his children as he adjusts to sharing custody with his estranged ex-wife, while the irrational hope for reconciliation with her provides a desperate sadness to the tale. The main takeaway of the novel may be the redemptive qualities of art, theatre and performance, but readers will easily be able to draw parallels with their own lives and outlets that have helped them find personal redemption and acceptance.
The book’s highlights come in the form of the behind-the-scenes look at the Broadway production of Henry IV throughout the narrative. No stranger to treading the boards himself, Hawke’s insights into all aspects of the theatre production are endlessly fascinating and compelling. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly Hawke stated the novel is “is basically everything I’ve learned about the theatre in the past 35 years of work jammed together as if it all happened in one fictional production” and although he promises the characters in the tale are fictional, it is hard not to see glimpses of well-known stars in the story’s performers – with elements of Hawke’s reputation and persona specifically certainly evident in the book’s troubled lead William Harding.
A Bright Ray of Darkness is an unmissable showcase of Hawke’s immense talents as a writer. While his earlier novels The Hottest State and Ash Wednesday certainly showed promise, his writing here is masterful and refined. The novel is a slow-burning and meditative tale of redemption that feels authentic and genuine, and one that cements Hawke as a novelist to talk about.
A Bright Ray of Darkness by Ethan Hawke is available in hardback, ebook and audiobook from Penguin under the William Heineman imprint from February 2nd 2021. Don’t miss the streamed event A Night in with Ethan Hawke in partnership with the Southbank Centre on February 8th. Details can be found here.