Almost exactly four years ago, Ireland’s Anne Enright was the “surprise winner” of the Man Booker Prize for what is said to be a rather bleak novel called The Gathering. Despite my good intentions, I have yet to read that one, but after reading her latest work, The Forgotten Waltz, I have to wonder if Enright does not specialize in “bleak.”
Set in a Dublin suburb, The Forgotten Waltz recounts Gina Moynihan’s reflections on a love affair she seems almost destined to have had, an affair in which she is the one wearing the tarnished label of “The Other Woman.” Herself married at the time, Gina was immediately attracted to Sean Vallely when she first encountered him at a family function. The two would be thrown together numerous additional times before the more oblivious Sean would finally succumb to the affair that would ultimately break up both marriages.
Complicating the affair for both Sean and Gina, is Sean’s young daughter Evie. Evie is said to be a “special” child, one with fragile health – she suffers seizures - who, at least to Gina, seems to be uncannily observant of her father’s moods and whereabouts. Almost despite herself, Gina is drawn to Evie in some inexplicable way and comes to believe that, without Evie, the affair with Sean would never have happened. Gina’s life, of which the reader will share in the most intimate of details, is further complicated by a deteriorating relationship with her sister, the breakup of her marriage, the death of her mother, and the challenge of competing with Evie for Sean’s love and attention.
Frankly, nothing out of the ordinary happens in The Forgotten Waltz. Enright’s story is one of commonplace adultery, the kind of love triangle that happens all around us, whether we notice or stop to think about it, every day. What makes the book memorable is Enright’s ability to get so deeply inside the head of a narrator like Gina, someone honest enough with herself not to try to rationalize her involvement with a man like Sean. Before she takes up with him, Gina knows that Sean has a loving wife – and, perhaps even more importantly, a daughter who needs him - but she gives little thought to their needs. She wants Sean for herself, and when she gets him, guilt is not much of an issue for her.
None of the characters in The Forgotten Waltz are particularly likeable but, thanks to Anne Enright’s way with words, they are real. These are just ordinary people making do with what life throws their way. They do not always make the best decisions or choices, but tomorrow always comes - and they get to try again. Isn’t that just the way it is?
Rated at: 3.5