Alone and stranded in a storm, the narrator of Anne Enright’s fifth novel, The Forgotten Waltz, forces herself back through memories of a steamy affair and the subsequent end of her marriage. It’s a devastating trip for her, but it’s made vivid by sharp, painful details that regularly puncture her reverie.
Gina isn’t able to justify why she committed the adultery in which she was eventually caught, but she still attempts to provide a coherent history while snowbound in her late mother’s unsellable house in the Dublin suburb of Terenure. Neither young nor flighty, she and her boyfriend Conor married and bought a condo at the height of the Irish telecom boom, only to see their fortunes and relationship foundering in the following bust. As Gina and Conor fight over whether they can afford a baby—which would be their ticket into the upwardly mobile clique Gina’s sister runs with—Gina meets Sean, a married man with a troubled daughter, at one of their parties, and is soon finding excuses to sneak away from her job for trysts with him. Their affair coincides with the sudden illness of Gina’s mom, whose bills and house further burden Gina and her sister until they too start to turn on each other.
Enright’s prose bears a Whartonian sense of financial troubles being injected into an already-turbulent world where the assurances of years ago no longer hold sway. Backed with the lingering tension that draws Gina and Sean together for months before they finally consummate their relationship, the illogical choices she made, strung together, can finally be acknowledged. Gina’s retelling navigates between the parts of her story that she deems immutable and those that might have been different. She faces her history with a mixture of defiance and pain, but above all, the honesty of knowing her account will never be witnessed by anyone.
As Gina accepts that she has been forced into a place where she no longer has the power to walk away, The Forgotten Waltz meditates on the way personal responsibility can twist the most well-meaning, loving relationship into a holding tank for accusations and tears. As in the Man Booker Prize-winning The Gathering, Enright allows her main character the thrill of remembered joys, without letting her slip away from blame. In the end, the bonds of family have loosened for Gina, but they’ll never completely let her go.