As you may have already guessed, we love whiskey at Master of Malt. We also love reading, that is why we’re head-over-heels with When All is Said, a novel told through Irish whiskey.
When All is Said is Anne Griffin’s debut, but it reads like the work of a master storyteller. No surprise then that it’s been selling like hot cakes in Britain and Ireland (where it was a number one bestseller), and picking up great reviews. Master of Malt has been conducting whiskey tastings at some of her talks, including one at Waterstones Covent Garden, where Griffin used to work. Before the event started, she told us a bit about the inspiration for the book:
“It must have been July of 2014, I happened into a bar in Mayo and here was an old gent standing there having a pint. He came over to talk to us. He said, ‘you know I used to work here when I was a boy’, and then he said the most amazing thing as he walked away, he said, ‘I’m not going to see the morning’. But he was gone before I could pull him back say ‘so exactly what does that mean?!’ What a statement! The next day that sentence stayed in my head and the idea of Maurice Hannigan, this fictional character sitting at a bar, to drink five toasts to the most five most important people in his life, came to me. And that’s where it all started.”
Over the course of the evening, he has a few drinks, and he tells us his whole life. The three whiskeys he consumes are Bushmills to his daughter Molly, Jefferson’s Bourbon to his son in America, and finally something old and rare from Midleton to his long-suffering wife Sadie. He also drinks a bottle of stout to his brother Tony and one to his sister-in-law Noreen. We learn about his upbringing in poverty in Ireland, working in service for the brutal local landowners, his marriage, and children. There’s skulduggery involving a rare gold sovereign, family revelations and more than a little tragedy.
Hannigan is not always a likeable man. He can be stubborn, mean and greedy. As a boy, he grew up with nothing and gradually became the richest man in the area, but this success came at the expense of personal relationships. It’s a story about regret: that evening, Hannigan says all the things he should have said in person to the people he is addressing. I read much of it on the plane back from Dublin and found myself welling up more than a few times (though apparently altitude makes people emotional). Reading When All is Said is like meeting an interesting, engaging, amusing and occasionally maddening man in the pub, and listening to his life story. There’s something very believable about this reticent man opening up over a few drinks. This quote from the book, sums him up:
“As for Irish men, I’ve news for you. It’s worse as you get older. It’s like we tunnel ourselves deeper into our aloneness. Solving our problems on our own. Men, sitting alone at bars going over and over the same old territory in their heads.”
Anne Griffin herself is a keen whiskey drinker: “My family, my mum and dad are teetotallers. But around 25, I began to just have a whiskey after dinner. I loved Bushmills and I adored Midleton. And I just felt that Maurice Hannigan had to be a whiskey drinker.” We’ll drink to that.
Master of Malt will be supporting Anne Griffin at the Cork World Book Festival on Saturday 27th April.
When All is Said by Anne Griffin is published by Sceptre, hardback, £12.99.