The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright: An Ambiguous Review

If it hadn’t been for the child then none of this might have happened.

She saw me kissing her father.

She saw her father kissing me.

The fact that a child got mixed up in it all made us feel that it mattered, that there was no going back.

I’m not sure how I feel about Anne Enright. This is the second of her books that I’ve read (technically 1.5 as I couldn’t quite finish the first) and although this book is miles better than her Booker prize winning The Gathering and has given me a glimpse into the reason why she’s rated so highly, there is still something that’s holding me back a little.

The Forgotten Waltz

The Forgotten Waltz is about adultery; about an affair between two married people, Gina and Sean. Set in Ireland, the entire story is told with hindsight and from Gina’s perspective, so we know from the beginning how this ends. But the story is still charged with us wanting to know how they got there, how this affair started, and how it developed.

Anne Enright writes well, there’s no doubt about that. Some of the passages in here really did take my breath away. She says things that are completely unexpected, but upon reflection, are things so true:

‘…I think how kissing is such an extravagance of nature. Like bird-song; heartfelt and lovely beyond any possible usefulness.’

How beautiful is that? Her depiction of the middle classes is also infuriatingly accurate and brought a smile to my face several times. For example, ‘The room where they slept was white…it was done in horribly similar, crucially different shades of f*cking white.’, and also ‘it was the kind of party where no one ate the chicken skin.’ I laughed at the obscurity of such a remark, but then instantly understood what she meant. These are self-consciously middle class people with middle class concerns, and in truly capturing the nuances of this world, Enright has succeeded.

Gina is very matter of fact, almost dispassionate when speaking of Sean and of the affair, an affair confined to the space of a hotel room, ‘we were only normal for the twelve foot by fourteen of a hotel room. Outside, in the open air, we would evaporate.’ She speaks as though Sean and the affair were these giant forces that were beyond her control:

But once we begun, how were we supposed to stop? This sounds like a simple question, but I still don’t know the answer to it. I mean that we had started something that could not be ended, except by happening. It could not be stopped, but only finished.

But it was hard for me to believe that someone so seemingly indifferent about something would sacrifice so much in order to attain it. She’s a walking contradiction; one minute repulsed by Sean and the next minute almost stalking him in true bunny-boiler fashion. She ultimately finds that the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side: It’s pretty much the same colour, just a different type of blade. But I couldn’t reconcile this supposedly epiphanic realisation with someone as smart and cynical as Gina – surely a previously married woman would know that the romance and excitement of a new relationship soon slips into the ordinary?! All the more so if the other adulterer in question has a child. Come on. This is Adultery and Deciding to Leave Your Spouse 101.

A common thread in Enright’s work is the way in which her stories start off in a fascinating way and then they slowly begin to falter and stagnate. The momentum is not kept up, but the beauty of the actual writing (in this book anyway) keeps you going. And Gina is a very interesting narrator. You might call her unreliable, but she goes out of her way to remind you that what she’s telling you may not be what actually occurred, and that her recollections are doused in a self-interested subjectivity. And you can’t help but be grateful for the extent she goes to to prevent the oversimplification of the motivations behind this affair.

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  1. Pingback: The Book Cover Wars: UK vs. USA | shelf life

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