‘The Forgotten Waltz’ by Anne Enright

Forgotten-Waltz

Fiction – hardcover; Jonathan Cape; 230 pages; 2011. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

In the immediate afterglow of having read Anne Enright‘s The Forgotten Waltz way back in May, I was positive it would be at least longlisted for this year’s Booker prize. After all, she’d won it in 2007 — with her extraordinarily grim and disturbing The Gathering — and this one felt just as accomplished, passionate and lyrical, if not more so. But alas, it didn’t make the cut.

I found it to be one of those novels that totally engrossed me from start to finish. It revels in language — the sentences are languid one minute, biting the next and occasionally wry and always eloquent — and the circular plot, which begins where it ends, is completely absorbing.

The story is essentially about adultery, told from the other woman’s point of view, but it never strays into sentimentality, nor does it cast judgement. The first person narrator, Gina, is a 30-something IT professional, who lives in Dublin. She’s articulate and intelligent.

When the novel opens she is looking back on the affair she conducted with Seán, a married colleague she met years earlier at a barbecue hosted by her sister, during Ireland’s financial boom. She dissects events leading up to their secret relationship, and how, knowing it was wrong — she was married and in love with her husband Connor, “who wore too many clothes […] and farted hugely when he stood in the bathroom to pee” — still went ahead and did it anyway.

Gina is deeply flawed, but the beauty of The Forgotten Waltz is that she knows it — and is not afraid of self-analysis, without pity.

The outfall of their affair is cleverly drawn. Seán’s daughter, Evie, plays a key role — she witnesses their first kiss and claps with glee at the sight — because it makes the relationship real, in the sense it is no longer about two people, but three.

The fact that a child was mixed up in it all made us feel that there was no going back; that it mattered. The fact that a child was affected meant we had to face ourselves properly, we had to follow through.

The irony of this is that Gina embarked on the affair to escape the trappings of a normal suburban life in which her and Connor would be expected to buy a house and raise children. They had the house — “The place was going up by seventy-five euro a day” — but Gina found the mortgage terrifying. She doesn’t exactly state it, but I rather suspect that she found the prospect of children equally daunting. That she ends up in an adulterous relationship in which she comes second, not to Seán’s wife but to Seán’s child, seems iniquitous.

The book is set during the big freeze of 2009 — during which Ireland experienced uncharacteristic heavy snowfall and blizzard conditions — and it’s hard not to think of this as a metaphor for Gina’s life, cast out into the icy wilderness for daring to follow her heart and not her head.

At its most basic level, The Forgotten Waltz is about infidelity, but dig deeper and you’ll see it’s also about one woman navigating a complicated, messy life full of contradictions, tangled emotions and family loyalties. Above all, it is a very human tale about passion, secrets and lies.

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23 thoughts on “‘The Forgotten Waltz’ by Anne Enright

  1. I’m glad to see your positive review of this because many that I’ve seen so far have been mixed. I have a review copy that I picked up at the US Bookexpo in May, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. I’m hoping to read it soon because Enright is coming to my area in a few weeks, and I’d like to have read it before I go (if I go). It does sound like a wonderful book.

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  2. Enright is such a deep writer this looks to be in that vein a book with lots of layers to it ,I do plan to get some irish literature read at some point as I ve let it fall off this last few years it finding time to get a number together for a reading project at moment little time to do so but hope to next year and this will be on the list for sure ,all the best stu

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  3. Thanks for bringing this book back into the light. I enjoyed it as much as you did and it was a shame that it did not make the Booker longlist. It is a significant achievement and, on top of that, a very good read.

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  4. Oh do go and see her if you can — I believe she’s very entertaining. I’ve not seen her myself but I’ve enjoyed listening to podcasts in which she’s been interviewed and done readings etc. I had always mistakenly thought she’d be quite stern and severe, but she’s the exact opposite.

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  5. This is a top read, Stu. In writing this review today, I sat down and practically read the thing cover to cover again — to refresh my memory but also to just enjoy her beautiful prose style.

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  6. I read this months ago, Kevin, but couldn’t get my thoughts in order to write a review. Fortunately, I’d made a few notes, so when I sat down to write this today it all came together. I did enjoy this book and while I can’t say it stuck with me, rereading a lot of it today brought back so many enjoyable memories. I must read more of her back catalogue.

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  7. It is interesting to see your review of this Kim. I don’t know why it is I just can’t be bothered to try Enright, and it honestly (and it sounds awful to say this) does feel like it would be a bother to read despite your wonderful review and indeed Kevin’s when I saw it. I love hearing the author talk about this book… but… but… I think its the last one, I tried to read it (after its booker win) and just thought ‘meh’ put it down after 50 pages and didn’t pick it up again. As you know I am not normally bah humbug about books, yet I have seemed to become so with this one. Weird.

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  8. I do like Enright’s writing. I’m adding this to my TBR. (I wasn’t very impressed with the Booker list this year. I tried a few of the books, but only managed to read two which left me totally unimpressed.)

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  9. “I found it to be one of those novels that totally engrossed me from start to finish.”
    Seems like an obvious point to make, but I love it when you a find a book that delivers that! Sometimes you really have to work to connect with a novel, but I always attribute being swept away right from the start to the kind of reading I did as a young girl and I find it happens far less frequently these days!
    Haven’t read anything by Enright, but would really like too. I have seen used copies of The Gathering MANY times but always bypass it because I’m never sure if I’ll like it or not. I guess there’s only one true way to find out! 😀

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  10. I would try The Forgotten Waltz first — it’s more “accessible” and upbeat, for want of a better word, than The Gathering, which is quite hard work.

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  11. It is a shame it didn’t make the Booker — it certainly deserved a place on the longlist. I think it’s one of those rare books that combines “literary” with “accessible”. It’s got a good plot, great characters and a beautiful prose style — what’s not to like? Oh, and it’s also one of those books, that feels very human but also makes you think about issues you might not normally consider.

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  12. I’ll be the first to admit that The Gathering is hard work and not for everyone. But The Forgotten Waltz is much more accessible — and Gina’s voice, both caustic and self-deprecating, makes the story easy to read and digest. Give it a whirl; I think you’d probably like it.

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  13. Great review. I wasn’t sure I would like this ’cause I started The Gathering and found it too unappealing and failed to finish it. But a friend recommended this one to me, and I loved it from the very first page – utterly brilliant and absorbing, and her use of langauge, as you intimate, is an absolute delight. In fact, I loved this so much, I’m going to give The Gathering another try.

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  14. I do think “The Forgotten Waltz” is much more accessible — and less dark — than “The Gathering”. I’m delighted to see it has been longlisted for this year’s Orange Prize; I had been disappointed that it wasn’t listed for last year’s Booker. This kind of writing deserves awards, me feels.

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  15. Hi Kim,
    I finally managed to read “The Forgotten Waltz” which I won on your blog.
    I’m afraid I was of the very few who didn’t think much of this book.
    I did very much like the honest and in your face voice of Gina. I liked the fact that the protagonist was unlikable and that she didn’t mind who she hurt by having this affair. I loved the disjointed prose but something else was missing. That “something” to sustain my interest. My admiration soon turned to annoyance and boredom with everyone, and I soon didn’t care how anyone ended up. Shame.

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  16. Found my way here via your Green Road review; reminds me why I’ve Forgotten Waltz on the tbr. That it utterly engrossed you & many praising her prose makes me want to read it sooner rather than later.

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