YOU THINK IT’S ABOUT SEX … – Review of The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright
I hated The Gathering. I could see why it sold a scant handful before it won the Orange Prize. But The Forgotten Waltz is something else: a wonderfully written, acerbically-witty, literary page-turner. It’s a tale of adultery set against the rise and smash of Ireland’s boom period.
‘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…The fact that a child was affected meant we had to…follow through.’
The premise is simple, but like a rough-cut gem, it is polished and polished until the conclusion shines, multi-faceted, so sharp you might bleed. Gina Moynihan thinks she is happily married to Conor Shiels, until she meets Sean Vallely.
‘I am surprised, as I remember all this – the immediacy of it, the copulatory crackle in the air – that it took almost another year before we did the bold thing; before we pulled the houses down around us; the townhouse and the cottage and semi-d. All those mortgages.’
The two begin an affair. Gina feels ‘soiled’ at first, then ‘glows’ with love. Neither of them make a decision to be with one another but they are found out. The difficulty is Sean’s child, Evie, who is nine when they first meet. There is something wrong with Evie. Gina doesn’t know what it is at first, and only explains at the end. It is both something and nothing, but regardless of what is wrong with the girl, she is, of course, like any child: collateral damage.
Gina, who works in a supremely trendy IT company, is supremely selfish. The book opens with her seeing Sean for the first time at her sister’s party:
‘Fiona keeps expecting me to help because I am her sister. She passes with an armful of plates and shoots me a dark look. Then she remembers that I am a guest and offers me some Chardonnay.’
Sean isn’t a particularly pleasant character either, riddled with jealousy, which in spite of his charm, he uses to belittle that which he loves. Gina is so busy with her job and the affair that she does not realise her mother is ill. Three weeks after she and Sean have slept with each other for the first time, her mother dies. The affair is set against the meteoric rise of the Celtic Tiger. Describing the house she buys with Conor, Gina says:
‘The place was going up by seventy-five euro a day…you could almost feel it, a pushing in the walls; the toaster would pop out fivers, the wood of the new-laid floors would squeeze out paper money.’
The affair, of course, will have huge financial ramifications: the pair are discovered just as the bottom falls out of Ireland’s property boom:
‘You think it’s about sex, and then you remember the money.’
And what Gina ends up with is not what she thought or anticipated, although neither she nor Sean seemed to have thought through their relationship at all:
‘I thought it would be a different life, but sometimes it is like the same life in a dream: a different man coming in the door…we don’t spend our evenings in restaurants or dine by candlelight anymore, we don’t even eat together. I don’t know what I expected. That receipts would not have to be filed, or there would be no such thing as bad kitchen cabinets.’
Gina’s version of their affair is arch, funny; the book is stunningly well written and paced – although it slows down towards the end with childhood revelations about her father, which would have been better earlier. The ending is a tiny, sickening explosion.