The Forgotten Waltz is one of those densely recapitulative novels that seek to interpret emotional crack-up from the angle of its ground-down aftermath. At the same time, it is not really a book about hindsight. Sometimes extending information to the reader and sometimes deliberately covering its tracks, sometimes inviting sympathy for its characters and sometimes implying that sympathy only gets in the way of knowledge, it offers the enticing spectacle of a heroine determined to decode the human acrostics that strew her path while darkly conscious that most of her judgments are either horribly provisional or downright inchoate.
Everything kicks into gear back in the early 2000s, down by the sea in fashionable Enniskerry, where twenty-something Gina (good-hearted, feisty, likes a drop) first catches sight of Sean Vallely, a neighbour of her prosperously married sister. As it happens, Gina is about to plight her troth to hairy, cyber-crawling Conor, but a near-inaudible bat’s squeak of sexuality hangs in the air. A one-night stand at a business conference on the shores of Lake Geneva is followed by a chance re-encounter and, after Gina recommends him as a consultant to the outfit for whom she labours — Rathlin Communications ‘puts European companies on the English-language web’ — a full-blown affair.
Meanwhile, there are three other narratives boiling away. The first features Gina’s glamorous yet declining mother, to whose home the lovers repair after her death. The second stars the Irish economy, which is about to go down the pan, taking a great many neatly observed middle-class dreams about tiled kitchens and holiday homes with it. The third follows Sean’s daughter Evie, who fell mysteriously off a swing when young, has fits and whose squeak of alarm when coming across her father in flagrante at a New Year party offers a symbolic high-point. Plump, unpredictable and engagingly farouche, Evie lurks at the proceedings’ core, and some of the best scenes find Gina trying to get to grips with the vagaries of a girl to whom her initial response was a brisk ‘Wouldn’t it be better just to hit the child?’
Like Enright’s Booker-winning The Gathering (2007), much of this is intensely ruminative, and the subject of its ruminations is, invariably, men. ‘Why did they have to have you, and make you up at the same time?’ Gina wonders. The problem about men, alas, is their eventual ordinariness: Conor of the cutting edge quickly turning into ‘Conor hanging out with a load of wasters online’; Sean incrementally transforming himself from a figure of limitless capacity and resource into a mundanely guilt-ridden adulterer. Procedurally, The Forgotten Waltz is suffused in gloom, the jobs its characters are engaged upon not worth the doing, and the relationships on which they heroically embark doomed to disillusioning drift.
As ever, Enright excels in her incidental detail: a bag of meat ‘stuffed like a pillow in the bottom drawer of the fridge’, Evie at the party ‘like a little herald, full of news beyond her understanding’, a vignette from the airport hotel in which Gina and her fancyman have been canoodling:
‘We drove up from Donegal, the day,’ a woman said to me, with tears in her eyes, and a pint of lager in front of her. ‘She’s off in the morning,’ indicating a woman of great age and girth on the banquette beside her, with hair done up, like my country grandmother’s, in a thin, grey wrapover braid.
For a moment the whole of Ireland seems to hang an inch or two beyond the page, keenly awaiting its cue.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated May 7, 2011Tags: Book reviews, Contemporary art, Fiction, Novel