The Forgotten Waltz

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The Forgotten Waltz - Anne Enright, book reviewThe Forgotten Waltz is the story of an affair, told in detail from the perspective of one of the participants, Gina Moynihan. “I met him in my sister’s garden in Enniskerry” she tells us, in the first sentence of chapter one. And already we know that a child is involved and will play a key role, because Evie is the subject of the preface. So the key building blocks are in place from the very beginning, and we know in general terms how the book will end. However, in this book it is the journey that matters at least as much as the destination.

The background for the novel is suburban Dublin towards the peak of the Celtic Tiger economy, and during the beginning of the property collapse. There are parallels with the rise and decline of the central relationships in the book, both the marriages and, perhaps, the affair. I know Dublin well, and the places and attitudes are convincingly portrayed. Some scenes are very funny, alive with a dark humour, but in the main this is a serious book. The quality of the writing is superb, and the enjoyment lies in the detail, since from the outset we know what will happen.

Anne Enright’s skill lies in how she leads us through the journey, so that we come to know Gina and understand her. When she first meets Sean, we experience the moment with her and the tiny lurch in the fabric of her universe as he turns round and glances at her. As their relationship develops, we see all of its ups and downs, its high points and low points, from Gina’s perspective. I found this very convincing – Gina understands herself well and is an astute observer. The other characters are portrayed through Gina’s eyes, and where she has doubts or uncertainties about them, we experience that as well. All that she can hold on to is that she loves Sean, although at times she does not seem to like him very much – she cannot really be sure that he loves her. Gina does not dislike her own husband, or Sean’s wife, but her passion for Sean overrides all of her other concerns.

Other family relationships are significant but secondary. During the novel, Gina’s mother dies and she recalls her relationship with her father. Sean’s daughter, Evie, who we know from the start is a significant player in events, is initially a somewhat mysterious figure. Her history unfolds as the book progresses, and we understand her importance to Sean and his wife. Towards the end, the focus shifts to Gina and Evie, mainly positive but with a strong minor undercurrent as Dublin suffocates in a blanket of snow. Perhaps the future of the affair will depend most crucially on Evie.

The perspective and the emphasis on the subtle emotional elements of this story are intensely female. Enright seems completely in command of her material. I have read all of her earlier books, and she now seems a more relaxed and mature writer (almost certainly helped by her previous novel, The Gathering, winning the Booker Prize). I enjoyed this book more then I enjoyed The Gathering – it is a deceptively simple story, which succeeded in getting under my skin, emotionally rich and darkly funny.

The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright
Published by Jonathan Cape, April 2011
With thanks to Jonathan Cape for providing a review copy.


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Forgotten Waltz, The
by Anne Enright

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Ian

Ian is a medical academic with a long standing interest in books, particularly literary and crime fiction, as both a reader and a collector. He has published extensively in the scientific literature, mainly on nutrition. He has two grown-up children and lives in Ireland.

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