“The Forgotten Waltz” is a contemporary Irish story told to us by Gina Moynihan, a clever, observant narrator who wryly relays the course of her love affair with Seán Vallely. Author Anne Enright is the real storyteller here, and a master. This is a waltz from which you emerge a little dizzy with disorientation.
“The Forgotten Waltz” by Anne Enright. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2011. 288 pages. $25.95.
“The Forgotten Waltz” is a contemporary Irish story told to us by Gina Moynihan, a clever, observant narrator who wryly relays the course of her love affair with Seán Vallely. Author Anne Enright — winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2007 — is the real storyteller here, and a master. This is a waltz from which you emerge a little dizzy with disorientation. The storytelling, or should I say the writing, is that transporting.
Gina lives outside Dublin in the deserted family home that’s been put up for sale by her and her sister Fiona. Her beautiful, charismatic mother Joan — “someone who seemed to gather the available light around her” — has died young and unexpectedly. Gina begins to spend the night there, ostensibly to aid in the selling of the house. This is also how she leaves her husband Conor — by default, it seems. And this is how everything happens — a bit unconsciously and a little at a time. It’s a deeply ambivalent attitude that blocks a certain depth but, on the other hand, completely captures life’s long rhythms. It is a fresh translation of a familiar world.
Eventually her lover Seán and his 12-year-old daughter Evie, a “peculiar” girl and an “off-center” beauty, float in, as if on a high tide, and they, too, stay. It is from this perspective that Gina relates the details of the her relationship with Seán, sliding to and fro within the eight years from first meeting to present day.
And it’s in these details that the writing thrills. Gina notes small actions that connect us to smart insights and those uncomfortable feelings that follow but are rarely articulated much less captured for their relevance. Though the writing is unadorned, it’s lean and poetic. For example, after Gina and Seán have one of their few “epic” kisses, Gina thinks back on it: “I walk through the Christmas city lights, not a taxi in sight and the town going crazy all around me, and I think how kissing is such an extravagance of nature. Like birdsong; heartfelt and lovely beyond any possible usefulness.”
In that state of mind, she enters the home she still shares with her husband, a handsome and manly multimedia geek at work upstairs:
“And then home: the bite of the key in the cold lock, the smell of the still air in the hallway, and the glow, upstairs, of Conor’s laptop. I go up there — drunk, surprised each time my foot meets a step. My husband is sitting in the armchair, his face blue in the light of the screen, and nothing moves except the sweep and play of his finger on the mouse-pad and his thumb as it clicks.
‘Have a good night?’”
The affair ends two marriages and threatens to disrupt Evie’s already precarious life. These big events come slowly, as they do in life, through details made fascinating by Enright, who mines details and pulls out brilliance each time.
“The Forgotten Waltz” is a slow and true story, a backward unraveling of a tumultuous time. It’s a ghostly reflection of all of our lives, in one way or another. You can step into it, inhabit it, but eventually there is that closing note, the shake of the head, the return to your own details. Though you may take more care afterward.
Rae Francoeur can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://www.freefallrae.blogspot.com/ or her book, “Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair,” available online or in bookstores.