Anne Griffin: When All Is Said
Published by: Sceptre Books
Buy It: here
What The Blurb Says:
At the bar of a grand hotel in a small Irish town sits 84-year-old Maurice Hannigan. He’s alone, as usual -though tonight is anything but. Pull up a stool and charge your glass, because Maurice is finally ready to tell his story.
Over the course of this evening, he will raise five toasts to the five people who have meant the most to him. Through these stories – of unspoken joy and regret, a secret tragedy kept hidden, a fierce love that never found its voice – the life of one man will be powerfully and poignantly laid bare.
Heart-breaking and heart-warming all at once, the voice of Maurice Hannigan will stay with you long after all is said.
What I Say:
“I’m here to remember – all that I have been and all that I will never be again.”
When All Is Said is a rare novel. Why? Well, it is the first time since I started blogging that I was so moved by a book that I was compelled to not only tweet from the rooftops about it, but also to have the confidence to actually film myself talking about it. I am so far from confident in those types of situations, that until about three years ago, I refused to be photographed.
Why is this at all relevant to this review? Quite simply, When All Is Said is such a pitch perfect exquisite novel, that any self doubt I had (or worries about how I looked to everyone) was replaced by the very real need to tell as many people as possible about it’s brilliance.
Maurice Hannigan goes to the bar at the Rainsford House Hotel bar to raise five toasts to the five most important people in his life. As he raises a glass to each one; Tony, Milly, Noreen, Kevin and Sadie, he not only tells us why he has chosen to toast these people, but we start to understand who Maurice really is and why he has made the choices he has.
From the start of the novel, as Maurice tells his story to his son Kevin who is now living in the United States, you are immediately drawn in. You feel as if you are eavesdropping on the conversations of a stranger in a bar, but also there is a sense of unease. Why is Maurice choosing to unburden himself now, at this time? Is this all part of something else, and if so what? You cannot help but feel a sense of protectiveness towards him as he reveals the truth behind the man sitting nursing the different glasses.
Maurice starts with a toast to Tony, his elder brother who he completely adored. It is plain to see that although they grew up in a family filled with love, that they were not rich, and times were tough for them all. Tony’s stability and his presence in Maurice’s life has obviously impacted on him, and we see how Tony helped him overcome the troubles he faced. Tony helped Maurice become the man he is today, and that is something he is grateful for.
What is refreshing about Maurice is that he is never held up in this novel as a perfect man. He has his faults, and his actions cause huge upsets for those around him. Life has made him determined to succeed, and his single mindedness and drive means that although we may not always understand why he does what he does, at the heart of Maurice is the desire to ensure everyone is treated as they should be.
When All Is Said is undoubtedly Maurice’s story, but we never forget that he is who he is because of the people in his life who have shaped him. Molly, his little girl, only lives for fifteen minutes, but her existence enveloped him and his wife Sadie entirely. As they come to terms with their unspeakable loss, you can imagine every sound, sight and emotion brings them back to the realisation that Molly is not there.
What is so clever and heart rending for me about this novel, is that as the evening wears on, you feel that Maurice is almost in a race to try and confess everything about his life so that he can leave this hotel bar free of the things that have been weighing him down. Anne Griffin understands perfectly that we all have our secrets, the things we should have said and the things we shouldn’t. Her skill is that in writing about Maurice, she asks us to look within ourselves and realise that we are all like him. We have different sides that we show to different people, and that the only person who truly knows everything about us is ourselves.
Maurice’s toast to his sister-in-law Noreen is a beautiful, understated part of the novel. It is clear to us, that Noreen has special needs, but Maurice’s unwavering acceptance of her made my heart sing. He and Sadie love her for who she is, and when she unwittingly gets herself involved in a certain situation, Maurice does not think twice about doing what he has to in order to protect her – and I adored him for that.
One of the (many) things I loved about the novel is that not one chapter or line is wasted, you always sense that the novel will end when Maurice has decided his story is told, and not a moment before. He is always the enigmatic storyteller, who weaves his way in and out of his story and into your heart. I felt that I wanted to protect him, to let him know that the people he loved, loved him right back, and that is testament to Anne Griffin’s extraordinary writing.
As the evening draws to its close, Maurice makes a final two toasts to his son Kevin and his beloved wife Sadie. These are the toasts that for me were the most difficult to read, as you understand that these two people are absolutely his world. For him, toasting these people brings into focus the fact that no man is an island, and that Maurice needs to be with them to finally feel complete. As he walks out of the hotel bar, to his room, you truly hope that he finds the peace he deserves.
When All is Said is an astounding novel. It is about life and death, of love and unspeakable loss. Of the ordinariness and extraordinariness of our lives. In Maurice, Anne Griffin has created a character who talks to us all, that makes us adore him on one page, and pull our hair out over him in another. He is Everyman, and that is why we love him – because we recognise facets of ourself, and what beats at the heart of all of us is the need to love and be loved.
Thank you very much to Louise Court for gifting me a copy of When All Is Said.