Tuesday, October 18, 2011


The Forgotten Waltz, Anne Enright, W W Norton & Company, 2011, 259 pp

I spent the summer reading plenty of novels by smart, young, cutting-edge writers. It was fun and exhilarating. But as fall approached and the days grew shorter, it felt appropriate to read a novel about adultery and its consequences by a seasoned author who knows the pathways of the heart.

The Forgotten Waltz, set in and around Dublin, encompasses those incredible years when Ireland, after all its sad centuries of impoverished outsider status, finally got to be a player in the mad scramble for wealth that characterized the early years of the millennium. Gina Moynihan, recently married career woman, feeling she can have any kind of life, house, job, or husband that she wants, falls in love with an older married man over a period of five years and infrequent encounters.

At first it is simply lust, drunken indulgence, meeting Sean Vallely in hotel rooms. The kissing is more transporting than the actual sex; the sneaking around more exciting than the man himself. In what Gina suspects is an attempt by Sean's wife to check out the competition, she receives an invitation to the Vallely's annual New Year's Day party. Something about the encounter with her lover's wife and daughter Evie raises a dalliance into a full-blown affair. An almost innocent air of just fooling around becomes the messy business of adultery.

The novel begins in 2009, after all the dirty deeds have broken up two marriages. Gina, who narrates her own tale, is looking back in an effort to understand how she came to be living in her deceased mother's house with a man who now seems rather ordinary. She tells us, "I can't be too bothered here with chronology. The idea that if you tell it, one thing after another, then everything will make sense. It doesn't make sense." The style of Enright's discerning look at many types of love is in tune with the above quotation. Gina looks back over the past seven years like someone awaking from a dream or coming out of an obsession. It does not all make sense, even to the reader.

In the first sentence of the preface we learn that, "If it hadn't been for the child then none of this might have happened, but the fact that a child was involved made everything that much harder to forgive." We also learn that there was something peculiar about this child, Evie. That preface is an almost too subtle hint that Evie is a central and important character, but not until the very end of the novel do we find out why and how.

What did Gina want? What did Sean want? It is not clear and I found myself fascinated and puzzled but unable to stop thinking about those questions until I had found my own answers several hours after turning the last page. What appears to be a story of adultery has a secret layer. In her Booker Prize winning novel, The Gathering, Anne Enright told a dark and shameful family saga. The Forgotten Waltz is perhaps lighter, but it is nonetheless an examination of Irish family life as it plays out in our fractured contemporary world.

(The Forgotten Waltz is available in hardcover and e-book by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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