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.
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
Final Top Gear reviewTV
FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets
Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Tunisia hotel attack: Locals form 'human shield' to protect hotel from gunman Seifeddine Rezgui
- 2 Iain Duncan Smith's expenses credit card is suspended after he runs up £1,000 debt to taxpayer
- 3 German ethics council calls for incest between siblings to be legalised by Government
- 4 French woman dies in freak bungee jumping accident
- 5 Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck to divorce and end their 10-year marriage
Top Gear: Former co-host James May to present new BBC2 car show
The Rolling Stones announce biggest ever touring rock exhibition with Saatchi Gallery
Glastonbury 2015: The best bits you missed from Lionel Richie and the Dalai Lama to The Libertines' secret set
Glastonbury 2015: The picture of a man crowd surfing in a wheelchair is brilliant, but it wasn't taken at Glastonbury
Fifty Shades of Grey author EL James' Twitter Q&A didn't exactly go as planned
The moment a Queen's Guard soldier lost it and drew his gun at annoying tourist
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
They are neither a 'state' nor 'Islamic': Why we shouldn't call them Isis, Isil or IS
Tunisia beach attack: How can British Muslims respond to the latest outrages?