Jonathan Cape £16.99

The Forgotten Waltz, By Anne Enright

This wry, philosophical take on office infidelity is hilarious at times, while also making you re-evaluate everything a novel can be

It has become fashionable lately to complain of "fiction fatigue".

David Shields' book Reality Hunger argued that we've all had enough of novels. His bone of contention? Their plots and tricks are fake and phoney and can't tell us anything about real life. "Conventional fiction teaches the reader that life is a coherent, fathomable whole," writes Shields, when really, life "flies at us in bright splinters".

Then along comes a novel such as The Forgotten Waltz that blows the whole game right open again. Anne Enright picks up those bright, real-life splinters and blinds you with them. The Forgotten Waltz is an achingly brilliant piece of writing on passion and delusion. Comparisons to Madame Bovary are not overblown, not because it is a wry, clever, philosophical take on adultery – although it is – but because it makes you re-evaluate everything a novel can be. If anything more real is published this year, I will happily submit to a bungled club-foot operation.

It's not as if Enright has anything to prove (The Gathering won the Man Booker Prize in 2007), so she opts for a premise which is dazzlingly simple: the anatomy of a love affair between two married people. Straightforwardly told as first-person narration, The Forgotten Waltz is the recent life story of Gina Moynihan, a young woman living in Dublin in 2009. The "love of her life", in Gina's words, is Seá* Vallely, an older married man and sometime work colleague. (She gets him his job.) Initially, she neither knows nor cares about the state of Seán's marriage, just so long as she can have him for herself. Gina herself is married – and not even unhappily – to Conor, whose feelings and thoughts are damningly conspicuous by their absence. So far, so Flaubert.

The references don't stop there. Just as Emma Bovary is consumed with ribbons, flounces and velvet trimmings, so Gina's mind is forever alighting on designer label details. And she can't stop monitoring the Irish property market. Blind to her own deceit and the increasingly obvious damage to her lover's young daughter Evie, Gina is far more concerned that her mother's house is falling in value. But do we hate her for it? No. We love her all the more. Flaubert said of his adulteress, "Madame Bovary, c'est moi." Enright seems to have held a similar thought in mind. There's a little of Gina in all of us. It might not be pleasant. But it's frighteningly true to life.

Gina's behaviour is deliciously callous. She even inches into stalker territory on occasion. But the narrative holds the reader on a moral tightrope. Is Gina a myth-busting heroine or a deluded bunny-boiler? And what about Seán, and his seemingly detached wife, Aileen? Where does the balance of blame lie? Enright is like a master puppeteer, playing with your emotions while you try to work out whether Gina's account can be believed.

The underlying commentary on office romance is hilarious. Gina wonders whether she can really love a man who is pretentious enough to use a fountain pen in meetings. (Later: "I even got to like his fountain pen.") She is "stung" to discover that Seá* once wrote a career appraisal in which he described her as "most ideally suited to a secondary role". Priceless.

The garrulous narratorial voice is a joy: funny, companionable, but always slightly unhinged. Gina has a kind of life-affirming death wish: "I did not feel guilty, that afternoon in Gstaad," she says of her first encounter with Seán, "I felt suicidal. Or the flip side of suicidal: I felt like I had killed my life, and no one was dead. On the contrary, we were all twice as alive." This is where Enright departs, playfully, from Gina's 19th-century counterparts, Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary. Suicide is no option for a practical woman.

There is far more to The Forgotten Waltz, though, than a feminist reworking of the stereotypical portrait of the other woman. The novel feels like a profound comment on the strangeness of life, and how difficult it is for anyone to understand their own motives when they embark on a course of action. Enright is not avoiding moral judgement for the sake of it. The novel is neither a condemnation nor an endorsement of infidelity. It's something much bigger, an awe-inspiring recreation of life as it is really lived: confusing, self-contradictory, frustrating, mundane.

It would be entirely missing the point, then, to complain that this novel doesn't have much of a plot. Enright has created an entirely believable psychological world, where nothing much needs to happen because you are quite happy to stay in the moment with her words. This is what makes it such an important book, and a must for the Booker shortlist.

For anyone who hungers, like Shields, for reality to come in the form of a novel (or who had given up on believing that such a thing was even possible), this book is enough to restore your faith in the power of fiction.

To order any of these books at a reduced price, including free UK p&p, call Independent Books Direct on 08700 798 897 or visit

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders