The Tzer Island book blog features book reviews written by TChris, the blog's founder.  I hope the blog will help readers discover good books and avoid bad books.  I am a reader, not a book publicist.  This blog does not exist to promote particular books, authors, or publishers.  I therefore do not participate in "virtual book tours" or conduct author interviews.  You will find no contests or giveaways here.

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Entries in Anne Griffin (1)


When All Is Said by Anne Griffin

First published in Great Britain in 2019; published by St. Martin's/Thomas Dunne Books on March 5, 2019

When All Is Said is told from the perspective of a lonely, grieving, guilt-driven man who left much unsaid to the few people he cared about. Maurice Hannigan, once known as Big Man, is 84. He starts the novel with a visit to a bar. While he interacts with the staff, his interior monologue tells his life story to his son in New Jersey. He wonders how his son grew up to be “so sure and happy” in his life, given Maurice’s inability to be happy with anything, least of all himself. He has been a widow for two years and just sold his farm outside of Dublin. He misses his wife desperately. Maurice is in the bar “to remember — all that I have been and all that I will never be again.”

His memories begin in Ireland when, apparently dyslexic, Maurice is a poor student but a determined football player. At the age of ten, he is encouraged to drop out and learn to be a farmer. He and his family suffer abuse by the wealthy landowner who employs them; Maurice is also abused by landowner’s son Thomas despite their similar ages. Thomas’ father beats him and Thomas can only gain self-respect by beating Maurice. When the opportunity for revenge in an unexpected form arrives, Maurice seizes it, changing lives in a way he cannot imagine. In the present, he is just coming to understand the consequences of his actions, and his attempt to make amends for his petty vengeance might only make things worse.

The story follows Maurice through a life that is materially successful and emotionally cabined. He falls desperately in love with Sadie, marries and has children, but he will experience multiple losses and will never acquire the tools to address them. By the end of his life, he prefers solitude. He cannot abide the thought of opening himself to others. Others see him as a mean and unyielding man because that is the only face he shows; few can guess that his heart longs to be open and humane.

The novel’s other key character is Emily, part of Thomas’ family and an unintended victim of Maurice’s small act of revenge. Maurice sees Emily as a gracious and courageous woman, the kind of woman he hopes his own daughter would have been. Maurice's interaction with Emily is a form of atonement, although not everyone in the novel sees it that way. Surprising facts that have shaped their relationship are unknown to Maurice until the are revealed in the final chapters.

At times, the narrative is not written in a persuasively male voice, but that flaw is not often noticeable. Most of the time the voice is appropriately gruff while elegantly expressing the regrets that Maurice admits to himself when drunkenness encourages insight. In its best moments, when Maurice’s monologue addresses his failure to open himself to his son, when he recalls awkward moments and details his failings, the story perfectly captures his masculine heartache, his inability to express his the warmth he feels. The novel is so rich in the layers of personality that define Maurice, and is told with such conviction, that it is difficult to believe this is Anne Griffin’s debut novel.