The Forgotten Waltz

The delusion that an extramarital affair will offer another chance for true love is neatly dissolved in Anne Enright’s The Forgotten Waltz.  Although the title may promise romance, Enright sticks to the mundane aspects of the affair’s scheduling and the deceit, adding some humor to the reality.

Gina Moynihan, a Dublin professional in her early thirties, confesses her affair at the beginning of the novel.  Her lover, Sean, a fellow worker who lives down the street from her sister, is married and has a daughter, Evie.  Of course, his wife doesn’t understand him.  Gina’s husband is the unfortunate betrayed innocent bystander.  The book has Gina flashing back to her first meeting with Sean, their work together, and their eventual secret meetings in hotels. Her mother’s death escalates the inevitable exposure.

Having an affair is not easy, and involves more than having the right underwear – it can be expensive…

“…everyone is fighting with me about money…I should sit down and calculate it out at so much per kiss…hundreds of thousands. Because we took it too far.  We should have stuck to car parks and hotel bedrooms…”

But Enright also laughs at the advantages…

“…all you have to do is sleep with somebody and get caught and you never have to see your in-laws again…It’s the nearest thing to magic I have yet found.”

Enright has Gina tell her story in the first person; the perspective is hers alone – what she thinks and what she thinks other are thinking.  After Sean and Gina leave their marriages and move in together – into Gina’s dead mother’s house – the relationship settles into familiarity without the passion, and Gina discovers that Sean has had other affairs – even propositioning her sister.

“I thought it would be a different life, but sometimes it is like the same life in a dream {with} a different man coming in the door…”

The affair ripples through everyone in their lives, and Sean’s daughter, Evie, clearly resents Gina’s intrusion.   Evie offers a final verdict on Gina’s actions that is devastating. The ending is ambiguous, but tragic – and Gina as the other woman, seems destined for an unredeemed future.

“Lovers can be replaced, I think – a little bitterly – but not children.”

As an Irish writer who won the 2007 Man Booker Prize for The Gathering, Enright includes the requisite Irish love of whiskey with its consequences, and the morbid angst over family and friends.  But she also offers gems of literary insight and language; in The Forgotten Waltz she attacks the often glib enterprise of infidelity – at anyone’s expense – and creates an insightful examination of its effects.