REVIEW: When All is Said, Anne Griffin

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Five toasts. Five people. One lifetime. "I’m here to remember – all that I have been and all that I will never be again." 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.

I must admit something, as weird as this may sound, but every time that my mind drifts to this truly exquisite and beautiful novel, all I can hear is the opening bars of Piano Man. It is a truly strange experience, almost as though Billy Joel is sitting at a miniature piano in a bar in the back of my brain; ready to regale me with the stories of the strangers that make up the shadows of my everyday experience. The ones who could bring so much to my life, but don’t; the ones who could be my found-family, but are not given the opportunity.
It is probably because both pieces illicit the same feelings within me; the warmth of the familiar, the melancholia of memory.
When All Is Said is a beautiful and reluctant tribute to the people, however fleeting, in the protagonist’s life who have made him who he is; whose very presence, or the love or hate they had for him, shaped his actions, for better or for worse. Maurice, a gruff Irish businessman getting on in years, is the kind of protagonist whose story is almost never told in life; a man of few words, reluctant to express the love to the people in his life who so clearly deserve it; whose thoughts are filled with words not readily or easily expressed. Because of this, in the creation of such an introspective novel, Griffin managed to form a character who is authentic, complex, and charming; one that is utterly, unmistakably human.
Here is to you Maurice. For all of your griefs, your loves, your regrets; the things that make you beautiful, but also for the things that make you less so.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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