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The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright

I can’t remember myself ever reading a novel about adultery.

I was quick to categorise them into the chick lit genre or a novel about woman bitching about the other woman that if I ever come across them, I usually avoid them. The only adultery movies that I came across are Unfaithful, because it showed so many good looking actors such as Richard Gere, Diane Keaton and Oliver Martinez, and vaguely I think I may have watched Fatal Attraction on TV.

These movies bear a moral message. Adultery carries dire consequences; sometimes it involves threat to lives. I got carried away with the movies. In this book, there is none of the thrill or blood; instead it was a heartbreaking and very honest rendition of ‘the other woman’ who has wrecked hers and her lover’s home. The ending is ambiguous and there is no moral compass in the ending and reader has to decide what the ending actually means.

The story is about Gina Moynihan living in Terenure, a pleasant Suburb of Dublin, in the winter of 2009 during the big freeze. Gina looks back at how she first fell for the ‘love of her life’ Séan Vallely, a consultant. Gina is married to Conor, with a mortgage that you can hear the value of the property rise by 5 cents per minute, a love that is termed as “mortgage love” by Gina. Séan however is married to wife Aileen with daughter Evie that is susceptible to occasional seizure.

The novel is a recollection of Gina memory of her love affair from the start and where it is now. Memories of one hotel room to another, long afternoons made blank by bliss and denial. It is both sensual and wrong at the same time, this business of adultery and Enright manage not to waste any redundant words and drew me into Gina’s confusing, tangled world immediately.

I read The Forgotten Waltz as if it is written by a different person than The Gathering, which I didn’t like. I have given up on Anne Enright until the rave about The Forgotten Waltz, and the slimness of the book, persuaded me to pick it up.

I was enthralled by the very first sentence and I continued to be enthralled until the last. The writing is so accomplished. Infuse with humour and compassion that right from the very first sentence, I invested in Gina, even if I don’t like her much and felt a lot of her miseries are one that she took it upon herself. That’s the power of a beautiful writing, I start to feel empathetic to the protagonist which I am not suppose to empathise with. The words between those pages are sooo… poignant, honest and heartbreaking that I have the eerie feeling that it came straight from Enright’s personal experience (Forgive me if this is not true! :)).

And it think how kissing is such an extravagance of nature. Like birdsong; heartfelt and lovely beyond any possible usefulness. (page 70).

But once we had begun, how were we supposed to stop? This sounds like a simple question, but I still don’t know the answer to it. I mean that we had started something that could not be ended, except by happening, it could not be stopped, but only finished. (page 91)

We talked about Aileen. Of course. We talked about his wife – because that is the thing about stolen love, it is important to know who it is you are stealing from. (page 111)

But I am being hard on my husband, who I loved, and who is not fighting with me about money, never mind broken dreams. In fact everyone is fighting with me about money: my sister, too. Who would have thought love could be so expensive? I should sit down and calculate it out at so much per kiss. The prices of this house plus the prices of that house, divided by two, plus the house we are in. Thousands. Every time I touch him (Séan). Hundreds of thousands. Because we took it too far….. if we keep going the price will come down – per event, as it were. Twenty years of love can be consummated for tuppence. After a lifetime it is almost free. (page 147)

Being dead was like being tickled, except that when you flew out of your body you never came back. (page 174)

Enright brilliantly captured the complexity of an affair. It’s not all about the passion isn’t it? Albeit early stages it is, after that it’s all about people that are affected by the affair. An affair doesn’t involve two persons but everyone that are related to that two persons.

Gina recalled her relationships with her deceased parents and how her relationship with her sister Fiona altered, with her sister’s discovery of her affair with Séan. Gina recalls her childhood and adolescence. Gina analyses the breakdown of Séan’s relationship with his wife and the bond he shared with his daughter. Both parties make their spouses out to be a horrible person, Conor a mouse-clicking, internet and technology addict; Aileen the overbearing wife. Centre to this however was Séan’s 10-year-old daughter Evie which Séan most loved. I can’t help but think that Gina is only serve with the crumbs of what is left of Séan’s love for his daughter or whether Séan really loves Gina, except Gina believes it to be so. Her affair may be her subconscious way of avoiding the same rut of her sister’s mundane domesticated life.

I push this review up on top of the other 4 reviews I have to write, in the hope that this book will be shortlisted for the Orange Prize next Tuesday. Do not be quick to judge this is another one of those ‘infidelity novel’. I don’t like reading about the subject matter either, but I am glad that I read the book and finish it within 2 days. At the heart of the novel, is a young woman’s honest record of her experience in navigating in the rough waters of marriage, family bonds, career and of course, infidelity; made brilliant by Enright’s beautiful writing. One that I would not easily forget.


Hardback. Publisher: Jonathan Cape 2011; Length: 240 pages; Setting: Terenure, Dublin, Ireland. Source: Library copy. Finished reading at: 14th April 2012.

There are many reviews out there, but here are the ones from my favourite bloggers:

Jackie@farmlane books: This book is packed with emotion and has the benefit of being far more cheerful than The Gathering.

Kim@Reading Matters: At its most basic level, The Forgotten Waltz is about infidelity, but dig deeper and you’ll see it’s also about one woman navigating a complicated, messy life full of contradictions, tangled emotions and family loyalties. Above all, it is a very human tale about passion, secrets and lies.

Nomad reader: This novel is filled with adultery and its impact on spouses, siblings, and children. The star of this novel, however, is Enright’s writing and perhaps her exploration of theme. The verdict: As a story of Gina, I adored it. As a novel, however, the male characters didn’t come through for me, and I wished for one of them to shine. Regardless, Enright’s writing is top notch, and this slim novel is worth reading.

Iris on books: : The bottom line: The Forgotten Waltz was not for me. Adultery and Enright’s portrayal of it, just couldn’t capture my interest. I felt more resistance than enjoyment while reading, more bleakness than appreciation of Enright’s style. But I can see why the novel is praised, and why her writing style might be moving, and how her language is effective in its switch from meandering to detailed, to direct, to observational. But, personally, I think it may be a while yet before I pick up another Enright novel.

Tracey@Book Sanctuary: The first half of the book was great, compelling and hard to put down. The second half didn’t work for me although that didn’t stop me easily finishing it. I found it a bit slow and the level of detail for that phase of the story too much. There are historical family issues to deal with and Sean’s daughter Evie features a lot. These seemed peripheral to the main story to me but I’m not sure that was the author’s intention. I like the title – As easy as it was for Gina to brush aside her vows in the heady early days of the affair, she wouldn’t have the luxury of forgetting the consequences of that choice quite so easily.


About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


18 thoughts on “The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright

  1. This sounds very good, I’ve read quite a few of the Orange longlist but not this one yet. I have to admit that I am rooting for Gillespie & I and Song of Achilles, both of those books blew me away.

    Posted by Sam (Tiny Library) | April 15, 2012, 10:04 am
    • Sam,
      I’m reading Song of Achilles now. It looks good and I’m hoping it would be shortlisted as well. This book is a short one. I got Gillespie & I on my stack one day but I can’t muster up any interest to read it because it is so thick. When it gets shortlisted, I will do read it then. 🙂

      Posted by JoV | April 15, 2012, 10:27 am
  2. I’m hoping that this makes the shortlist too. I am always amazed at how Enright can grab my attention so easily, despite there being little plot.

    Posted by Jackie Bailey (@farmlanebooks) | April 15, 2012, 3:37 pm
  3. Glad you liked this. Enright is an amazing writer — her prose is so beautiful but she also knows exactly what makes people tick.

    Posted by kimbofo | April 16, 2012, 5:35 pm
  4. With all the comparisons to The Gathering, I’m even more intrigued to read that one too. I loved Enright’s writing. It was amazing, and I’m eager to explore her backlist. I’m glad you so enjoyed this one!

    Posted by nomadreader | April 16, 2012, 5:49 pm
  5. Adultery is a very complex subject. I shun chick-lit but adultery, when done well, can make for a really good read.

    Posted by Ti | April 16, 2012, 9:55 pm
  6. I’m not quite sure why I’m drawn to novels on this subject; perhaps because I have loved someone unattainable once? Anyway, I found this novel terribly raw and gripping and reminding us not to spoil the homes in which we, or others, live.

    Posted by Bellezza | April 17, 2012, 2:19 am
  7. I must admit that like you initially said the idea of a book about adultery would make me turn away but after reading your review I’m more interested. Would maybe pick this up if my library have a copy.

    Posted by jessicabookworm | April 17, 2012, 2:10 pm


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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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