The Irish have a reputation, deserved or not, for being storytellers, drinkers and fighters, not necessarily in that order. Eighty-four-year-old Maurice Hannigan, the gruff, unsparing narrator of Dublin-born writer Anne Griffin’s satisfying first novel, When All Is Said, is no exception.
Without informing his son, Maurice has sold his home and farm, given away his dog and told everyone he is retiring to a nursing home. First, though, is a nightlong stop at the well-appointed bar of the Rainsford House Hotel, where Maurice will raise a glass five times to five different people, and remember, as he says, “All that I have been and all that I will never be again.”
Maurice’s full and prosperous life is now filled with ghosts: the older brother he watched waste away with tuberculosis; his daughter, Molly, a stillborn he held for just 15 minutes but has seen every day of his life; and his beloved wife, Sadie, who has been dead two years to the day he steps into the bar. His son, whom he loves with a fierceness more evident for his inability to express it, lives across the ocean in New Jersey and has a family of his own.
So it’s alone Maurice sits, toasting and remembering. In a rough-hewn voice smoothed by whiskey and as mesmerizing as a coiled cobra, he spills out a life of joy and regrets, full of tender love and bitter, enduring hatred, by turns accepting his sins and mitigating them. As he toasts and talks, a mystery surfaces. Why, after all those close-mouthed decades, is Maurice finally opening up? Is he really going to a nursing home, a place he’s about as well-suited for as for a yurt? Or does he have another destination in mind?
Griffin, the author of numerous short stories, is an exciting new voice in Irish literature. Her versatility makes When All Is Said a pleasure to read. Maurice’s story is told with wry humor and pathos that avoids sentimentality, giving us a clear-eyed look at a man fumbling with a question we all must eventually face: What do you do with your life when all you have left are memories and regrets?