Book Review: When All is Said by Anne Griffin

Whenever I pick up a book, I always try to determine from the prose where the author is from because many times authors infuse their writing with a sense of place that is tied to their homeland. That is particularly true of Irish literature. Every time I pick up a book written by an Irish author, I can easily glean from the text a certain sense of Irishness. I believe this is why I am so drawn to Irish authors; there is just something about the way they write and the way they infuse their heritage and culture into each and every word of their writing. Anne Griffin is a wonderful new addition to the Irish writer's club.

When All is Said tells the story of Maurice, a widower who walks into a bar for a drink and gives five toasts to five people who meant the most to him throughout his life. As he gives these toasts, we learn of Maurice's life in the countryside of Ireland and the relationships he created with all those around him. We learn about the sudden loss of his brother at a young age, the influence of his mentally handicapped sister-in-law, the daughter he knew for less than 20 minutes, the love of his life, and the son to whom all these toasts are going out to. Through all of these people, Maurice learned so much and was shaped so greatly by their presence in his life. One mistake he makes in his youth has powerful consequences that reverberate throughout his life and through those around him. By the end of the novel, Maurice has come to terms with his life and how things have turned out, resigned to his future as he sees fit.

Griffin tells this story so beautifully and so brilliantly. The language flows so easily and the tone of the novel is lighthearted yet also serious when it needs to be. The detail that Griffin gives each and every character is wonderfully described and by the end of the novel I feel as if I know these characters completely. Maurice as a protagonist is interesting- at times funny, at times harsh and cruel, and at times genuine and caring, he is a dynamic, well-rounded man who has his mind made up about his life and his future. His interactions with the people of his community are interesting to discern, and the reader is always looking for the hidden meaning or motive behind these meetings. This book is all about relationships: how they are built, how they effect every aspect of our lives, and how they all in some way connect. We have an effect on those around us, both big and small, whether we realize it or not, and Griffin does an excellent job of pointing this fact out. My favorite toast was his first to his brother Tony, who seemingly had the biggest impact on his life. Each toast has its moments of humor and heartache, and Griffin perfectly captures the realness and ugliness that life can deal us.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. Reading about Maurice's life made me reflect and think who I would toast to at the end of my days. Griffin captures not only what life is like in rural Ireland, but also the importance of relationships and the impact they have upon our lives, how they are all connected, and how one mistake can change many lives. Griffin's debut novel is a powerful one, and a quite enjoyable addition to my Irish fiction collection. I would recommend this novel to all who love reading about love, life, relationships, and the reflection of these things on our lives. What a great book.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐