The Forgotten Waltz – Anne Enright
Jonathan Cape, 2011
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“If love is a story we tell ourselves then I had the story wrong. Or maybe passion is just, and always, a wrong-headed thing.”
The Forgotten Waltz is about Gina, “the other woman”, and her relationship with Séan. Both Séan and Gina are married, and Séan has a child, Evie, who plays a key role in the story. The book tells the story of Gina and Séan’s affair through remembrances of Gina, while she waits out a snow blizzard in her family home in Terenure, Ireland, in 2009.
Anne Enright provides an interesting setting to reflect on a number of themes. The Forgotten Waltz starts at the height of the real estate “bubble”, at the time that almost everyone bought houses, or second houses, and had complete faith in being able to sell them at a high profit years later. At the end of the book, none of the houses sell, prizes drop, leaving Gina and Séan unable to move forward as a couple since they are unable to leave their former economic lives behind.
But it is not just the economy that keeps Gina and Séan from moving on, not really. The whole books is about how desire often leads to a slip away from reality and every day life. Gina, certainly, does seem to want to escape her expected “safe” future through her affair with Séan. And Séan wants to escape his overprotective wife and the health problems of his daughter, even though his daughter is very much the centre of his universe. Throughout the book, Gina seems more preoccupied with telling herself that Séan is the love of her life, instead of portraying that she actually feels that way. It is as if she’s retelling the story of their love, in order to convince herself of it. And in the middle of this all, Evie is what keeps them grounded, is what makes them real. This is portrayed through the first scene of the book, in which Evie witnesses Séan and Gina kissing. The first time this scene appears in the book it is told as a joyful occasion, in which Evie seems to condone their relationship. Later on in the novel, the kiss is revisited, and by then it lacks proper feeling, it is part of Gina and Séan’s game, more than their love. Gina’s story is about her telling herself the story of “the love of her life”, but also the story of her realisation that it is Evie that makes their love real, in a sense:
“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.”
Ironically, it is also Evie who guarantees that Séan can never fully commit to her and let go of his former life.
Writing about The Forgotten Waltz, I am starting to appreciate the story for its cleverness, and the way in which Gina, as the narrator of her own love story, becomes interesting exactly because she is unreliable. Thinking about it now, after reading, I can see the appeal of the book. However, while reading it, I wasn’t all that enthusiastic. Reading felt more like a chore than a joy, and it was not until I checked Teresa’s review of the book when I was stuck around page 75 that I began to see its potential.
I still cannot tell you that I enjoyed reading The Forgotten Waltz, or liked it even. Part of my problem with it stems from my personal aversion to stories about affairs, especially those told from the viewpoint of the “other woman” and asking for my sympathy of her. Perhaps it is an age thing, perhaps I’d like to continue living in a bubble.. The thing is, my biggest fear in any relationship might be adultery, I try not to imagine how much it must hurt, and so I find it difficult to deal with the fact that so many stories revolve around it, especially those who portray the lost-ness and flaws and feelings of the people partaking in the affair. I do get it, I do see how everyone has flaws, I do see how it might just happen, but I feel uncomfortable reading about it, every single time. Add to this that I am currently also reading True, another story that focuses heavily on an affair, and I think it may just have been too much at this moment, clouding my judgement of the merit of this book.
The bottom line: The Forgotten Waltz was not for me. Adultery and Enright’s portrayal of it, just couldn’t capture my interest. I felt more resistance than enjoyment while reading, more bleakness than appreciation of Enright’s style. But I can see why the novel is praised, and why her writing style might be moving, and how her language is effective in its switch from meandering to detailed, to direct, to observational. But, personally, I think it may be a while yet before I pick up another Enright novel.
Other opinions: Reading Matters, Shelf Love, Farm Lane Books, The Asylum, A Book Sanctuary, Book Atlas, Everyday I Write the Book, Books Under Skin, Book Chase, Read Around the World, Lakeside Musing, Lindy Reads and Reviews.
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