Vintage £7.99 (230pp). #163;7.59 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Forgotten Waltz, By Anne Enright
Friday 16 March 2012
An adulterous affair lies at the heart of Anne Enright's novel, her first since her Man Booker win in 2007. The storyline might be a classic one but, like Flaubert, Enright has created an entirely believable world in which nobody is entirely sure of their own motives.
The novel's narrator, Gina Moynihan, is a Dubliner in her mid-thirties who works in IT. It's at her sister's housewarming party that she meets her future lover, Sean Vallely, an older man with "too beautiful" eyes. Ironically, it's only because she feels so secure in her relationship with her long-term partner, Connor, that she dares to return the stranger's gaze. The moment of their meeting spreads through the novel like a stain.
Looking back from the present, Gina relates how the affair progresses over the next several years. The lovers also turn out to be colleagues, and their relation-ship is played out in foreign hotel rooms. Enright is at her funniest when exposing her heroine's contradictory emotions. In one scene Gina is head-over-heels in love with Sean, the next she finds herself "slightly repulsed" or finds "the actual sex was a bit too actual". Mid-way through their liaison, she's mortified when Sean acts like a professional adulterer and presents her with a Hermès scarf and a bottle of scent that smells like rain and fabric freshener. She even finds herself embarrassed, at an office meeting, by his choice of fountain pen.
Gina is a self-consciously unreliable narrator, spotting the flaws in her arguments even as she's making them. It's never clear to us, or to Gina, why she's destroying her marriage to the companionable Connor, but we are on her side even when she appears casually cruel or sour. There's little sympathy for Sean's daughter, Evie, or his seemingly remote wife, Aileen. "I got her straight off," says Gina "and nothing she subsequently did surprised me or proved me wrong." After her first encounter with Sean, Gina feels suicidal, or rather, as she puts it "the flip side of suicidal: I felt I had killed my life, and no one was dead. On the contrary we were all twice as alive."
Less important than the momentum of the affair is Enright's playful and beautifully expressed examination of how it feels to cross the line. As in the tradition of adultery novels, the adulteress comes to a bad end. Gina finally ends up living with Sean and acting as stepmother to the petulant Evie. There's no arsenic in store, just the mundane inevitability of everyday life.
Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
- 2 Replica Back to the Future Hoverboard released
- 3 Gamers confess the worst things they've done in The Sims
- 4 Dylan Moran on quitting smoking, being about as sexy as the Pope and why comedy panel programmes are 'c*ck shows'
- 5 Modern society encapsulated in five seconds
Poldark, review: Demelza’s insouciance is almost as impressive as Ross’ pecs
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
James May hints he will not continue on Top Gear without Jeremy Clarkson
Menstruation-themed photo series artist 'censored by Instagram' says images are to demystify taboos around periods
Jeremy Clarkson Top Gear return: Suspended host set for live event in Norway next week
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
Street preacher quoting from the Bible fined for calling homosexuality an 'abomination'
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans