Book review: The Forgotten Waltz

A dose of sobering responsibility sinks into the central character — anti-heroine for some, heroine for others — of Anne Enright’s novel, The Forgotten Waltz.

While this might sound like a spoiler, for a story about adultery and easy love, it is no more than the author declares on the back cover: If it hadn’t been for the child, then none of this might have happened. She saw me kissing her father. She saw her father kissing me. The fact that a child got mixed up in it all made us feel that it mattered, that there was no going back.

It is 2009, and Dublin is seeing her first snows. Thirty-four year-old Gina Moynihan has been tasked with meeting Evie, her lover’s adolescent daughter, after school. Sean Vallely, the father, is delayed by the weather in another city. Although we will not read about this, nor have any idea about the relationship-dynamics involved until the latter part of the book, there are early signs things the way they have unfolded are not what Gina could have imagined.

Five years following an initial encounter in 2002, Gina, newly married, becomes irresistibly attracted to the family-man Sean who, more than fifteen years her senior, lives down the road from her sister. As the interest progresses to flirtation, and desire, then full-blown obsession, Enright chooses the names of songs as headings for her chapters: Will You Love Me Tomorrow, Everytime We Say Goodbye, Stop! In the Name of Love.

In the tumultuous seas of longing and misgivings, the author offers the pair a plethora of opportunities to shift course and salvage their separate matrimonies. But, despite their best effort, not for the lack of trying, both remain wilfully helpless to their irresistible passion: At the train station, I sat in the car and said to him, “No more”… By Mullinger I thought, if I did not see him soon again, that I would surely die.

This physiology of love develops against the backdrop of the Global Financial Crisis, in which Ireland’s economy, that is hitherto riding the surging waves of technology and real estate and open-market optimism, collapses into a free-fall, and crisis of confidence. Observations can be made on a delicate correlation between the fiscal trajectory and the evolution of the romantic affair.

By the time money in the country has dissipated like vapour, rupturing the dream of a fortune from selling her late-mother’s family-home, Gina realises the one for whom she has left her husband regards her as “secondary” — particularly to his child. It must be said, however, that Enright is never heavy-handed in drawing these parallels.

The time of snowy-white solitude Gina finds at her disposal, presently, when Sean is away, frames her reflections on the recent time with him, and her former marriage, and childhood, that, told in flashbacks, make us empathise with her one moment and loathe her the next. Confusion and guilt, endless attempts at self-assurance and quiet resignation inform her emotional journey. Finally, aimed at honouring her love, Gina resolves to gather a deeper understanding of Evie; for in spite of its melancholy-title, The Forgotten Waltz is a love-story, after all.

With writerly skill, Enright pays no respect to chronology in her story-telling. The narrative traverses with her mind to what place or year on which her thoughts decide to rest. Fragments about coping with Evie at home juxtapose with memories of her own father; shadows of her mother’s ghost jostle against Sean’s presence in the house.

It is one of those books where there is a reason to every word. The imagery is vivid and hefty with meaning.: The [hotel] room was impossible to find. I had to walk miles of corridor, go up in one lift, and down in a different one…Apparently it was all easy to find from the outside.

Enright constructs a desultory and remarkably precise psychological drama in which outside events constantly echo inner scenes. It is a tender, humane, and visceral work that leaves an unmistakeable scent of sycamore in the air.

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