it was the structure of Anne Griffin’s When All is Said that first caught my eye and when I realised she’d been a bookseller with Waterstones it went straight on my list. John Boyne’s name sits proudly on the back of my proof under a glowing puff, another Waterstones alumni. Spanning a single night, most of which is spent in the bar of the Rainsford House Hotel, Griffin’s debut tells the story of eighty-four-year-old Maurice Hannigan as he makes five toasts.
Widowed two years ago, Maurice has decided he can no longer bear to be without his beloved Sadie. He’s put his affairs in order, dressed himself smartly and settled in at the bar. Over the course of the evening he raises his glass five times: once to his beloved brother Tony, long ago lost to tuberculosis; once to his longed for daughter, Molly, who arrived stillborn; once to his sister-in-law, Noreen, a constant presence in his and Sadie’s life; once to his son Kevin, openly adored by his mother but barely acknowledged by Maurice and lastly to Sadie, much missed but so often overlooked. As Maurice drinks each toast, kindling memories of these five, we learn how his life became intertwined with the Dollards whose farm he went to work on aged ten, now the hotel in which he sits, and the far-reaching repercussions of small split-second decision. Maurice addresses his thoughts to Kevin, confessing his many misdemeanours, not least his inability to express his love and admiration for the son who makes his living from words while his father can barely read. Maurice has made himself one of the wealthiest men in the county but he’s neglected those dearest to him and his vengefulness towards the Dollards has caused them a great deal of misery. Now that he’s sealed his own fate, it might be time for a little redemption.
This is such a clever structure. Griffin tells us story of Maurice’s life through his recollections of the people most important to him, and to some extent the story of rural Ireland over the past century along with it. He’s an expertly drawn character, every inch the jovial old man at first but soon revealing both the sadnesses that have shadowed his life and his inability to open himself to love and joy, his eye fixed on accumulating property and the righting of the wrongs done to his family by the Dollards. Maurice is the master of the colourfully turned phrase, captured well in Griffin’s use of vernacular. His cocky exterior hides a well of grief and not a little guilt but there’s a good deal of comedy amongst the tragedy. A thoroughly enjoyable, smartly turned out piece of fiction inspired, apparently, by a man Griffin met in a hotel who told her he’d worked there as a boy and wouldn’t see the morning.