The Forgotten Waltz, By Anne Enright

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The Independent Culture

The Forgotten Waltz is a lively book about adultery set in Dublin in the first decade of this century, the arc of the stolen romance loosely following the financial situation in the city, from boom to bust. Gina Moynihan, the novel's heroine and narrator, is an engaging and vivacious IT professional with a powerful turn of phrase. She is complex and knowing and would not have it any other way. Watching her sister give her first party in her new home, she tells us, "There was Fiona, her cheeks a hectic pink, her eyes suddenly wet from the sheer la la lah of pouring wine and laughing gaily and being a beautiful mother forward slash hostess in her beautiful new house." The mingling of envy and pleasure and judgment in this, and the unexpected violence of "forward slash" suggest to us early on that, with Gina, all is not entirely well.

It is at this same party that Gina sees for the first time the man who will become her lover, the brooding Sean Vallely and his wife Aileen. "I got her straight off, and nothing she subsequently did surprised me or proved me wrong." Of course.

The workings of the love affair, the hotel rooms, the unsuccessful Sligo minibreak that turns out to be in a former asylum, the deceiving of the other spouses, the chance meetings and the layers of longing and desire, provide the main focus of The Forgotten Waltz. There are some poignant moments to this lavishly rendered romance: Gina waiting outside Sean's house hoping for a glimpse of him; her wistful disappointment when he acts like a professional adulterer and gives her a Hermès scarf and a rum bottle of scent that smells of fake rain.

From the beginning of the romance, Gina is aware she is smashing up her best thing, her own marriage to the very likeable Conor. We never quite know why. Does Gina want more poetry in her life? When Sean drives her in his fancy car to a pleasant spot and recites Yeats to her and sits back in his seat and opens his legs expansively, she responds by insulting his in-car CD collection. It isn't quite good enough.

A literary novel by an esteemed Booker Prize winner about an adulterous contemporary love affair is a risky venture. For a mildly discontented woman to be swept away by a passion for her sister's sexy neighbour – it's a cliché both in literature and in life, you might say. Yet the novel carries an awareness of this, I think, and if the protagonist sees her own falling for Sean as a failure of style, that just makes it all the more excruciating for her.

However, no kind of love is well served by thoughts of Mr Mills and Mr Boon. Lines like, "The guilt when it finally hit was astonishing", and "But once we had begun, how were we supposed to stop?" do sometimes bring these fellows to mind. The most moving passages in the book concern the heroine's mother, Joan. When Gina apologises to the white wine which she has slopped over the edge of the glass on the night her mother dies, it is one of the novel's best moments.

The subsequent failure of Joan's possessions to behave in the way Gina expects is also rendered with tenderness and originality. Gina and her sister leave her mother's house for a "month at least, to let the place fade a little, before we could begin to dismantle her life; divvy it up and throw it away. Then the surprise to find that it had not actually faded. All her things were just as she had them; bright and clean and particular." The Forgotten Waltz is a book to be consumed happily in a day, although you may wonder whether writing of Enright's calibre deserved a stronger subject matter.

Susie Boyt's 'My Judy Garland Life' is published by Virago

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