What becomes of the brokenhearted? That question, asked—and answered equivocally—in the Motown classic, receives a more thorough treatment in Griffin’s debut novel.
Maurice Hannigan, Irish octogenarian and curmudgeon, plans a memorable night at a hotel bar in his native County Meath. As the night wears on, Maurice raises a narrative toast to each of five characters—family members all—to be followed by a solitary stay in the honeymoon suite. As Maurice’s sentimental (yet cleareyed) trip down Memory Lane unfolds, his stories recount early difficulties at a rural school as well as later-in-life successes in the business world. Each stage of his life is illustrated with a tale about one of the five, all now deceased but for a devoted, yet distant, son. The lingering presence of Maurice’s dear departed in his daily life is considerable, but it is the paradoxical absence created by the death of his wife, Sadie, that Maurice cannot adapt to and which propels his night of elegiac remembrances and his plans for thereafter. Small-town rivalries and the lasting repercussions of Maurice’s childhood pocketing of a valuable gold coin recur throughout the five accounts. His soliloquies about these themes and surrounding events lend the novel a playlike structure and feel. (If Milo O’Shea were still available, the most difficult casting decision could easily be made.) Some supporting characters in Maurice’s life are more vividly drawn than others, and his storytelling tends toward the meandering, but, in his defense, the tone never wavers over the course of five fine whisky-and-stout toasts, a credit to the steady thread of melancholy woven throughout.
Griffin’s portrait of an Irish octogenarian provides a stage for the exploration of guilt, regret, and loss, all in the course of one memorable night.