Tag Archives: When All is Said

When All is Said by Anne Griffin: Raising a glass or five

Cover imageit 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.

Books to Look Out for in January 2019: Part Two

Cover imagePart two of January’s preview kicks off with a debut from a former Waterstones bookseller: When All is Said by Anne Griffin. Over the course of a single evening, eighty-four-year-old Maurice Hannigan raises five toasts to five different people all of whom have changed his life in different ways, all of whom are now gone. ‘Exquisitely written and powerfully felt, When All is Said promises to be the next great Irish novel’ say the publishers and it seems that both Donal Ryan and John Boyne agree. It sounds like a very appealing way of telling a story to me, and I have a weakness for both debuts and Irish writing.

Rebecca Kaufman’s The Gunners follows six childhood friends who become like family to each other, playing together and finding their way from childhood into adult life. Then one of them stops speaking to the others and won’t say why. Years later, her suicide forces them back together for her funeral where the truth about what happened between them is finally faced. ‘This is a generous and poignant novel about the difficulty – and the joy – of being a true friend’ according to the publishers. I do like a novel that revisits childhood friendships; lots of potential for dark secrets and character development.

I read Magda Szabo’s Iza’s Ballad on holiday in Antwerp and regretted it. It’s a book that deserves more attention than a short city break allows. I’m determined that won’t happen with Katalin Street which follows the sole surviving family of the three who grew up together on the same street in pre-war Budapest, picking their story up in the Soviet era. ‘Magda Szabo conducts a clear-eyed investigation into the ways in which we inflict suffering on those we love. Katalin Street, which won the 2007 Prix Cevennes for Best European novel, is a poignant, somber, at times harrowing book, but beautifully conceived and truly unforgettable’ say the publishers. I’m hoping for more of the quiet understatement and elegant prose that struck me in Iza’s Ballad.Cover image

Gerald Murane’s Border Districts takes us somewhere entirely different. A man moves to an isolated town intending to spend his last years casting his mind back over a lifetime of reading and considering which characters, metaphors and lines of glittering prose have caught in his memory. ‘Feeling an increasing urgency to put his mental landscape in order, the man sets to work cataloguing this treasure, little knowing where his `report’ will lead and what secrets will be brought to light’ say the publishers. This is the first book by Murane to be published in the UK, apparently, which seems surprising given he’s a literary star in his native Australia. Kim at Reading Matters is a big fan.

Lightening the tone a little after two rather sombre sounding novels, Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer sounds darkly humorous. Korede’s sister has issued yet another cry for help after ridding herself of her third boyfriend. Korede jumps to, disposing of the body, but alarm bells start to ring when Ayoola begins dating the man Korede’s had her eye on for some time. Ayobami Adebayo has called it ‘Disturbing, sly and delicious’ which is what’s caught my eye with this one.

‘Delicious’ is a word which may well apply to Pascal Pujol’s Little Culinary Triumphs set in Montmartre where Sandrine is eager to set up a restaurant and willing to go to any lengths to do so. ‘A carousel of extravagant characters follows: the giant Senegalese man, Toussaint N’Diaye; the magical chef, Vairam; the extravagantly flatulent Alsatian, Schmutz and his twelve-year-old daughter Juliette—IQ 172!; the alluring psychologist and Kama Sutra specialist, Annabelle Villemin-Dubreuil’ promises the publisher but all does not go well, apparently.

Cover imageI’m ending this preview with Diane Setterfield’s nineteenth-century set Once Upon a River which sounds like a piece of good old-fashioned storytelling, entirely appropriate for January evenings. A stranger knocks on the door of a riverside inn, badly injured and holding the body of a drowned girl in his arms. Hours later, the girl revives. Who is she, and how has she survived? It’s been over twelve years since the publication of Setterfield’s debut, The Thirteenth Tale, the book for which she’s best known, and I’m sure this one will be eagerly anticipated.

That’s it for January. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis if any take your fancy and if you’d like to catch up with the first instalment it’s here. Paperbacks soon…