cover image Ian McKellen: A Biography

Ian McKellen: A Biography

Garry O’Connor. St. Martin’s, $29.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-22388-3

Novelist and biographer O’Connor (The Vagabond Lover) explores the life and work of British actor Ian McKellen, a longtime friend, in this engaging but thin biography. Starting with McKellen’s Lancashire boyhood, where he lost his mother at age 12, O’Connor recounts McKellen’s early years through his Cambridge education, to his London stage debut in 1964, which was marred by tragedy when McKellen’s father died in a car crash on the drive home after seeing him perform. O’Connor then charts McKellen’s upward trajectory in theater—peaks included his 1976 Royal Shakespeare Company pairing with Judi Dench in Macbeth and Tony-winning role as Salieri in Amadeus’s 1980 Broadway premiere—and his reticence about revealing his sexuality before, in the late 1980s, he embraced LGBTQ advocacy in response to the AIDS crisis and homophobic British laws. O’Connor’s account—which closes with the stratospheric fame McKellen achieved in the X-Men and Lord of the Rings films—benefits from his insider access, but is hampered by an uncertain tone—sometimes conversational, sometimes formal—and occasionally faulty chronology (as when O’Connor seemingly has McKellen meeting “President Reagan” in 1992). A mostly entertaining introduction to the pre-Gandalf Ian McKellen, this book never quite manages its goal of showing “this complicated and complex man in all shades and colours.” (Nov.)