Five toasts to five people in one lifetime. This is the summary of When All Is Said by Anne Griffin. Research has once quoted that we are the product of the eight people that we spend the most time with. In this heart-warming but deeply saddening novel, Maurice Higgins reveals through internal monologue that five people shaped his life and made him the man that sits in a hotel bar in 2014.
The key themes that I have picked up on are relationships and loyalty. The protagonist, an eighty-four year old Irish man, has huge respect and love for the people he has spent his life with – his wife, his child, his brother, his parents. While his life has undoubtedly been tough, he is an emotional man under his gruff exterior which makes the character truly lovable, in my opinion. He is an insecure character and the causes of these insecurities are revealed to us in a structured five-part story.
Moreover, the themes of violence and revenge feature in When All Is Said. Sadly, Maurine suffered under the abuse of his boss in his early working years but, as the saying goes, what goes around comes around. Maurice wanted his abusers to suffer and through a simple act of picking up a gold coin, he made that desire a reality. The gold coin neatly ties together the narratives and brings strength and meaning to an inanimate object. While we’d like to believe that violence in the workplace has been eradicated in Ireland, it is known that emotional abuse and bullying still occurs. Whilst very different to the scenario Maurice found himself in, there are still some comparisons that we can draw with the modern day workplace.
I believe we have all met a Maurice Higgins in our life. He is someone older who rarely, if ever, speaks about his past or about his upbringing. Someone who may appear unfriendly, unhappy or unpleasant but in reality, someone who has been through a lifetime of hardship that many of us today will never understand. I know my own grandmother rarely spoke of her childhood. I could count on one had the amount of times she mentioned being a child or a teen. It is sad but it’s a reality. A reality that Griffin has so eloquently captured in this novel.
There are good writers and there are brilliant writers. I would deem Anne Griffin as the latter. I whizzed through this book in a week and I truly understand why this author was awarded Newcomer of the Year award. If you would like to see what else I have read in 2019, the year in which I committed to reading 25 books, check out my list.