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[609] The Forgotten Waltz – Anne Enright


” I go through the darkening town with Sean’s beautiful mistake. Because it really was a mistake for Sean to have a child, and it was a particular mistake for him to have this child; a girl who looks out on the world with his grey eyes, from a mind that is entirely her own. Lovers can be replaced, I think—a little bitterly—but not children. Whoever she turns out to be, he is forever stuck with loving Evie. ” (Part III, The Things We Do For Love)

The Forgotten Waltz is a quiet, contemplative novel about a woman’s affair with a married man. Told in retrospection, the book illuminates the power of hindsight. As it opens, the young, married Gina Moynihan is kissing an older man, Sean Vallely, upstairs in his house, when she realizes they are being observed by Sean’s daughter, Evie. Sean’s wife calls up Evie to rejoin the New Year’s party downstairs. The nine-year-old just bursts out laughing at the sight of them.

The affair, as I had learned to call it, progressed in its Friday pace. The sex became less filthy and more fun, the silence filled with talk—laughter even—and this unsettled me. I might have preferred silence. Every normal thing he said reminded me that we were not normal. That we were normal for the twelve foot by fourteen of a hotel room. Outside, in the open air, we could evaporate. (Part I, The Shoop Shoop Song)

No adulterer is selfless, but this Gina is the unrepentant, selfish woman who is indifferent about the sad home she’s wrecking. Nor is she concerned with the pain she is causing the wife. She is annoyed and repulsed by Evie, whose neurological affliction, a seizure disorder, has been a worry and that has put a strain on Sean’s marriage. Gina is delighted that when the affair blows in her face, the end of her marriage to Connor rescues her from the obligatory visit to in-laws. To make a long story short: Gina is not a likable woman.

That said, her voice—snarky and self-mocking—really stays with me. Enright’s handle on Gina’s interior monologue is accurate and unsparing that whole reading experience is, at times, like eavesdropping on a very long, intimate phone conversation. The economic clash comes about two-thirds the way through the book, shattering what little self-assurance of both Gina and Sean and explaining much of her self-mockery. She is in love with a man whose philandering ways she chooses not to see. She is in love with someone who is incapable to reciprocate.

My problem with this book is the way Gina narrates the events of several years in roughly chronological order but with many flashbacks and slips forward. So I’m not always sure when I am reading about. Gina is also the ultimate narcissist, and because of which, all characters exist within the constraint of her intelligence and insight.

230 pp. Jonathan Cape London. Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

2 Responses

  1. Sounds like it is kinda like watching a natural disaster in slow motion! I’ve had a few of these in real life happen to people we knew. Horrible to watch but you can’t turn away.

  2. Yes it is. You already know the affair will have its consequences right at the beginning. So it’s a matter of how the whole game plays out. It’s actually a more engaging read than the book that won the Booker, The Gathering.

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