New Release Book Review: When All is Said by Anne Griffin

When All is Said…

About the Book:

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.

My Thoughts:

‘I nod, swirl the last drop at the bottom of my glass, before downing it. Ready now to begin the first of five toasts: five toasts, five people, five memories. I push my empty bottle back across the bar to her. And as her hand takes it and turns away, happy to have something to do, I say under my breath, “I’m here to remember – all that I have been and all that I will never be again.”’

When All is Said is a perfect study of grief, loneliness, and regret. It’s achingly real, both sad and uplifting; beautifully arranged.

‘Loneliness, that fecker again, wreaking his havoc on us mortals. It’s worse than any disease, gnawing away at our bones as we sleep, plaguing our minds when awake.’

Maurice is 84 years old and he’s come to the bar on this night to drink five toasts to five different people. The first one is to his brother Tony:

‘While my parents had long given up coaxing and pushing me out the door, Tony never stopped telling me I was full of greatness. People didn’t really do that back then, encourage and support. You were threatened into being who you were supposed to be. But it was because of Tony’s words that I made that journey to school every day and suffered through the darkness, when my brain felt exhausted from not knowing the answers. I didn’t want to let him down, you see. Couldn’t let him know that I knew I was totally and utterly thick.’

The second is to his daughter Molly:

‘Forty-nine years ago, I met Molly, only once and only for fifteen minutes . But she has lived in this dilapidated heart of mine ever since.’

The third is to his sister-in-law Noreen:

‘She was a ticket. Her own woman, as they say. She pretty much ruled our lives, but truthfully her burden was light.’

The fourth is to his son Kevin:

‘And each time, I swear to myself that this time will be different, that I’ll make the effort. That I’ll ask about your job and what you’re working on. And I promise myself I’ll listen to you with my whole body and every ounce of concentration in me. I’ll hang on your every word. And then I might even ask another question. But as soon as you walk in the door sure it’s like a bolt closes over my mouth.’
‘Maybe, I’d have been happier if you’d been a gobshite. Chip off the old block. Then maybe I could’ve talked to you. Feck it, son, you really pulled the short straw with me. A cranky-arsed father who can’t read for shite.’

And the fifth toast is to his wife Sadie:

‘No one, no one really knows loss until it’s someone you love. The deep-down kind of love that holds on to your bones and digs itself right in under your fingernails, as hard to budge as the years of compacted earth. And when it’s gone . . . it’s as if it’s been ripped from you. Raw and exposed, you stand dripping blood all over the good feckin’ carpet. Half-human, half-dead, one foot already in the grave. Jesus wept.’

Very early on in the novel, the author hints at what’s to come once Maurice has finished all of his toasts. As the novel progresses, Maurice’s plan becomes all the more apparent. There’s been plenty of discussion about the right to choose to end your own life in the face of having a terminal illness, but what of the person who suffers from loneliness, the sort that is bone deep, relentless, with no end in sight. What of the person who has been a part of a couple for so long, for most of their life, who is suddenly left behind, with everyone else gone too. Maurice’s son and grandchildren lived in America, while he was still in Ireland. They visited semi-regularly, but it was not the same as being just up the road, or even a few hours away. He had no extended family left, just a young man from a care organisation who had taken to dropping in from time to time. He’d had enough. And as much as it pained me, I could completely understand where he was coming from. I watched my grandmother pine away after the death of my grandfather. She died in her sleep for no apparent medical reason, but I always felt that she had simply given up, chosen to let go in the hopes that she might meet my grandfather again in the heaven she believed so strongly in.

‘But after a while I didn’t answer the door any more. Couldn’t face him. Knowing how desperate he was trying to keep me connected to this world, when I wanted nothing more to do with it.’

The beauty in this story comes from the way it is arranged. Each toast has Maurice reflecting back on a part of his life and a person who was pivotal in shaping some part of his character. He’s rather self-depreciating, unflinchingly honest in a way that can only come from deep reflection late in life. He’s had good times and he’s had bad ones, he has regrets as well as triumphs. This is a wonderful novel, filled with Irish humour and punctuated with breathtakingly poignant moments. Our population is aging, we are all expected generally to live longer than the generations before us. Aged care is one of the fastest growing industries for employment in Australia; I’m sure this extends to other parts of the world. Anne Griffin has shifted the lens, altered the picture, and raised the question: what is there to live for when everyone else is gone? I don’t think this novel intends to advocate suicide for the aged; I think it’s more about reminding us that aged people are still people, with a whole life and a wealth of memories behind them. They might be old, but they’re still alive. I can’t think of anything more heartbreaking than being left behind, ignored as the world keeps on moving around you, just biding your time waiting for death. I highly recommend When All is Said, it’s one of those novels that quietly stuns with the force of its message.

‘I still like to visit Frank, when I have the time that is. Sometimes I just make up stuff for him to do, like cashing a cheque. Once I handed him a cheque for € 500 and asked him to cash it and when he handed me the money, I changed my mind and told him he could lodge it. Don’t be feeling sorry for him, he gets paid well enough with my bank charges.’


Thanks is extended to Hachette Australia via NetGalley for providing me with a copy of When All is Said for review.

About the Author:

Anne Griffin is the winner of the John McGahern Award for Literature. Shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award and The Sunday Business Post Short Story Competition, Anne’s work has been featured in, amongst others, The Irish Times and The Stinging Fly. She’s worked in Waterstones branches in both Dublin and London, and for various charities.
Born in Dublin, Anne now lives in Mullingar, Ireland, with her husband and son. When All is Said is her debut novel.

When All is Said
Published by Hachette Australia (Sceptre)
Released on 29th January 2019

3 thoughts on “New Release Book Review: When All is Said by Anne Griffin

  1. Pingback: Life According to Literature Tag | Theresa Smith Writes

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