The Forgotten Waltz was the first thing I read after finals. That was only a week ago, but I would happily read it again now. Dubliner Gina Moynihan recounts her affair with Seán Vallely, beginning with the moment when Seán’s daughter Evie sees them kissing at a New Year’s party.
Evie’s importance may not seem clear at the start, but she will always be central to the story – the child whose epileptic fits are the cause both of her mother’s overbearing behaviour, and of Seán’s difficulty in leaving the family.
While Seán is revealed to be imperfect and ordinary, Evie emerges in many ways as the most interesting and enigmatic figure, and it is on Gina and Evie, not Seán, that the novel closes.
We then move back to when Gina first meets Seán, at a barbecue in 2002. Speaking with hindsight, Gina is an openly unreliable narrator, and she is immensely likeable for her candour. When Seán turns to look at her there is no love at first sight, or even any real attraction: “There was nothing fated about it.”
The reason why this novel works so well is the complete lack of idealism: these are real people with real jobs and concerns, and their affairs are not sweeping, but complicated and, at times, disappointing. Gina’s husband Conor, for example, is solid, hairy and good fun, a “happening geek” who works in IT.
What struck me was less the love story than the precise detail Enright gives of how people live and dress: from Sean’s suits and his wife’s designer dresses to Gina’s sister’s expensive caravan. Whilst this reminds Gina of what she and Conor haven’t achieved, the smugly affluent are also ridiculed, above all the women who discuss their plastic surgery at the New Year’s party.
Gina is equally wide-eyed about her own foolish marriage in this world where economic realities are never forgotten: “Mortgage love. Shagging at 5.3 per cent. Until one day we decided to take a couple of car loans and get married on the money instead. Vroom Vroom.” She is cruel and funny, honest enough to admit that carrying out an affair in the workplace comes “surprisingly close to farce”.
The novel also touches upon Gina’s father’s alcoholism, her mother’s decline, and the Irish banking crisis. Enright’s writing is tender, even devastating, but never overly sentimental and always with a touch of characteristic wit.
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