Anne Enright won the 2007 Booker for The Gathering (see WW Feb 20, 2008) I liked it, liked it, liked it, always meant to get back to Anne, and here she is with The Forgotten Waltz. Check out the cover, above. A perfect statement of the book. The woman represents Gina Moynihan, the chairs her husband and her lover. She’s got a hand on each, chosen neither. That’s part of the mess she creates. I’ll follow up on the rest a bit later. First, a word about language and voice, since those are the elements that make this book work. This is a piece from the novel’s opening passage.
It is half past five on a Wicklow summer sunday when I see Sean for the first time. There he is, where the end of my sister’s garden becomes uncertain. He is about to turn around–but he doesn’t know this yet. He is looking at the view and I am looking at him. The sun is low and lovely. He is standing where the hillside begins its slow run down to the coast, and the light is at his back, and it is just that time of day when all the colours come into their own.
What an avalanche of feeling and exposition from this simple description of a coastal sunset. The ragged boundaries of the garden and the hillside slope foreshadow the ragged boundaries of the relationships to which we are about to be introduced. We don’t know what they are yet, but there’s a sense of danger in Gina’s obvious hungering for this guy. There’s a touch of pathetic fallacy in the phrase about the colours coming into their own.
What she does with visual imagery, Enright also does with time, switching tenses and thoughts back and forth between now and then, between what was (or maybe was. One can’t always be sure, you see.) and what will be. And there’s the wonderful economy with which she treats some of the cliche scenes required of such stories of love betrayed.
Pretty much sums it up.
As we follow Gina’s heart and thoughts through the affair and the breakups, we know and appreciate her for a brave and impulsive soul determined to taste and smell all of life she can whatever the consequences. For her or the others involved. Even when she screws up horribly, you’re on her side. Even when she can’t quite figure out what side that is.
Of course, Enright sprinkles the text with a number of delicious Irish words and phrases: “skint” for “broke;” “kit” for “house” or “apartment”
“gone on a wander,” “snogging” for “making out.” Some of these might just be British and not entirely Irish, but they give the book a Dublin flavor quite beyond our obligatory visits to St. Stephen’s Green and Trinity.
Ordinarily, if you hand me a book as character- and voice-driven as this, I’m going to hand it back and ask for something with more juice. But The Forgotten Waltz has juice aplenty. And yet.
In the end, I have to conclude that there’s not enough “there” here to support a novel. At bottom, it’s a pedestrian story of love, sex, adultery. Of a woman who can’t help herself from stepping into a situation that’s bound to fail. Even if everything could be solved between her and Sean, the problem of Evie, her paramour’s troubled daughter, will continue unabated. Evie will obviously never accept Gina, and she will always stand between Gina and her lover. If they stay lovers, which is by no means certain.
So, though the writing is superb, I don’t think the action is sufficient to carry the book. A scene or two between Conor (Gina’s husband) and Sean? A complication at work? A bigger reaction when she learns that she is not by any means Sean’s first conquest? I don’t know. Just something more. This is an excellent book that falls just short of being superb.