This book stayed with me a long time after I finished it. Three words sum up When All is Said by Anne Griffin. Masterful. Emotional. Funny. It is the story of Maurice Hannigan as he sits at a bar one evening. He drinks a toast to five people and tells the story of his life. It is one of those Irish novels which makes your emotions tingle and say ‘yes, it is like that’, which makes tears prick your eyes and laughter rise in your chest. This is Griffin’s debut novel but she is an accomplished prizewinning writer who knows how to tell a story. It is unbearingly touching and will, without fail, make you cry.
Maurice is in the bar of the Rainsford House Hotel in Rainsford, Co Meath, Ireland. At the beginning we don’t know why he is there, the first few pages are an introduction to Maurice, how he feels his age, as he conducts an imaginary conversation with his son Kevin who lives in America. His first drink is a bottle of stout and as he drinks, he tells the story of his brother Tony and their childhood. A key incident in this section has reverberations throughout Maurice’s life and throughout this novel; a gentle reminder that we all may grow old, we may live in the same place or move away, but our childhood and our actions stay with us. We are introduced to Emily, owner of the hotel, and Svetlana, barmaid. Griffin has a talent with sense of place; she makes the hotel come alive.
Four more drinks follow. For Molly, a glass of Bushmills 21-year old malt. For Noreen, a bottle of stout. For Kevin, a rare whiskey, Jefferson’s Presidential Select. And for his wife Sadie, Maurice drinks a glass of Midleton whiskey. “Svetlana places my final drink down in front of me: Midleton, you can’t fault it. Majestic stuff. I look at it like she has just handed me the keys to a new harvester. It’s the autumn colours that get me. It’s the earth of it, the trees, the leaves, the late evening sky.”
As each story is told, Anne Griffin weaves in the present day so the two strands blend and the past explains Maurice’s situation, why he feels as he does, why he longs for what he longs for. This is a beautiful Irish novel about love, dyslexia, grumpiness, family, bullying, forgiveness and whiskey. I loved it and didn’t want it to end.
Read more at Anne Griffin’s website.
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