A second look at The Forgotten Waltz, by Anne Enright

Article published on May 9, 2012.

This most recent book by the Man Booker Prize winning author of The Gathering has now just been unsurprisingly shortlisted for this year’s Orange Prize.  Of all the predictions I read for who would be carved into the shortlist from the fourteen originally nominated, The Forgotten Waltz was one that featured every time.

The story is told from the first person narrative of Gina Moynihan over a period of around five years from her late twenties through to her nearly mid-thirties against the backdrop of Ireland’s financial crisis. Gina works in the I.T. industry in Dublin, is newly married, a recent homeowner and comes across as underwhelmed but happy with her life.

One fateful summer day, Gina encounters Sean Vallely at her sister Fiona’s party. She remembers the first second she saw him vividly and this sets the scene for the intensity with which their affair starts after several more encounters and purposeful intertwining of their professional lives. They don’t try not to start the affair but they do try to stop it a couple of times once it has begun but the desire is too strong, we know that Gina feels she has no choice but to see Sean, to be near to him even at the expense of those she loves the most.

The affair receives its fateful twist during the Christmas season when Gina, strangely invited by Sean’s wife Aileen, turns up at their New Year’s Day party with her sister and her sister’s husband after a fight with her own husband. After much wine and general all round flirting, Sean’s young daughter Evie witnesses a very close moment between the two adulterers upstairs. Evie is a child of questionable health, wrapped in cotton wool by her parents and this betrayal by Sean must now be justified; and so everyone’s lives are blown apart.

Anne Enright uses this story as an interesting way to look at how so many relationships can be harmed when an affair is exposed. The obvious people are always the cast aside spouses but other people are hurt in ways perhaps unanticipated. Gina’s relationship with her sister is strained by the knowledge that Gina lied and Sean’s daughter must be protected at all costs. Through this situation, Sean and Gina are forced into a position where they must declare that they are in love in order to justify their actions. In an interview with ‘The Guardian’, Anne Enright says that she wanted to find an interesting punishment for unfaithfulness. “Love is a great punishment for desire.”

I found the main character of Gina to be a wholly unlikeable protagonist and unfortunately I also felt that she wasn’t terribly well drawn. I had no sense of her actual reality, just a selfish narrator. When Sean takes several months after the affair is exposed to completely leave his wife and daughter’s home, Gina complains of it, not actually considering the wreckage she is helping to cause. Of course she is not entirely to blame for the situation but you would have thought she might be a little less demanding considering. This is an interesting look at the selfishness of each party involved in an affair. Gina’s character is also not very well described physically, perhaps this is why I cannot see her.

I thought the book was thought-provoking as it considered fresh twists on writing about an affair and it was technically very well written; there were some very beautiful passages and original expressions which I lingered over and savoured the words. However, on the whole I found sections of the book a little boring, perhaps due to my lack of relation to the characters. I did get an overall impression of very well written ‘chick-lit’ enhanced by the modern professional setting and the fairly shallow characters. I can see why it has been shortlisted for the Orange prize but I’m not convinced it is a front-runner to win.

 

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