They are very few and far between, almost mythological, but every so often a book comes along that I cannot fault for anything. “When All Is Said,” the beautifully written and deeply moving debut novel by Irish writer Anne Griffin, is one of those.
“When All Is Said” is the story of Maurice Hannigan, who, over the course of a night, raises a glass to each of the five most important people in his life.
With a carefully-chosen drink for each, Maurice toasts his older brother Tony, who died of consumption during their youth, his stillborn daughter Molly, his mentally handicapped sister-in-law Noreen, his son Kevin, who left Ireland to work in America, and lastly, his wife Sadie, who has recently passed away.
Lonely and weary, we accompany Maurice as he comes to terms with what each of these people mean to him, interwoven between a recounting of his remarkable, but often troubled life.
At the heart of this novel are these five magnificent and alive characters. We spend the majority of the novel understanding the ways in which they have impacted Maurice’s life, but by the end, I couldn’t help but feel they had touched my life as well.
I never thought that I would feel such love for an irritable, grumpy old man until I was introduced to Maurice Hannigan. He is truly a treat of a character, my favorite that I’ve read for quite some time. Considering the novel’s slim size, we learn a substantial amount about him, and from beginning to end it’s a pleasure.
Something else that really stood out about this book was the pairing of such tender, bittersweet and wistful writing with an ultimately uplifting and inspiring story. Who hasn’t sat and pondered over what could have been or felt regret for things they have left unsaid?
But Anne Griffin’s goal is not to instill pity in the reader or disappointment in their own failings, it’s to show us how love in all its forms shapes us into who we are.
More than anything, “When All Is Said” is a book about telling the people who are important to us how we really feel about them before it’s too late. It struck such a deep chord with me, and I have a feeling it will do the same for many more.