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Anne Enright: The Forgotten Waltz

Gina Moynihan – we only learn her first name well into the book, from the daughter of her lover, and her surname a bit later, from the wife of her lover – is happily married to Conor. He is solid, decent reliable, even good fun, though does spend too much time on the Internet (playing games, not doing porn, as Gina checks his Internet history). They had had a good relationship, been to Australia and then settled down and married. But, at the start of this book, she has first seen Seán, at a party given by her sister, Fiona. She is attracted to him, interested in him but does not see him again for another year, when they again meet at her sister’s. It is only when they both, not entirely coincidentally, go to a conference in Switzerland, that they fall into bed together. She feels guilty about it. He probably does not. He is hired, again not entirely coincidentally, as a consultant to study the company where she works, a multilingual Internet company. It is only then that they start a serious affair. This could be just a book about an affair, how it works, where it doesn’t work and, of course, its effect on others and, to some extent, that is what it is. The affair, as many affairs, has its ups and downs and, of course, has its complications, as both parties are married, and Seán has a daughter. Moreover, Seán and his wife are both good friends and neighbours of Fiona and her husband. Enright tells of the ups and downs of the affair and she tells us a good, humorous, fun story.

But her take on the story is slightly different from the norm. Gina is concerned not just with Seán, though, as she keeps telling us, she does love him. Seán’s wife, Aileen, and, more particularly, their daughter, Evie, figure just as much in the story. It is not that Aileen is the jealous, scorned wife though, to a certain extent, she clearly is, nor is she, at least not initially, brought together with Evie. It is that both are there, as presences. Evie is slightly different from normal children. She has had seizures, possibly caused by a fall she had when young. As a result, Aileen and Seán are understandably very protective, though Evie herself is less so, for example breaking the special diet she has been given. Gina, as other lovers have found, has to take second place to Evie. But she does not feel a competition with Evie. Rather, she finds herself somewhat bemused by Evie and, to a certain, extent by Aileen. Much of the story is about the role of Aileen and Evie in her life.

The book is divided into three parts, with each part divided into chapters, whose title is the title of a schmaltzy pop song. The first part is Gina’s situation from when she first sees Seán at Fiona’s up to the point when they are having an affair which Gina is determined to end but cannot bring herself to do so, but before they are discovered. The second and third parts start with Seán living with Gina (in her recently dead mother’s house, which she and Fiona have been unable to sell) though, despite having been there a year, he has yet to move in, for complicated reasons involving Aileen, Evie and his legal situation. The first part is set during the Irish economic boom. By the second part, the collapse has started, hence their inability to sell the house and various people losing their jobs. Enright cleverly matches up the mood of the affair and the mood of the economic situation in both parts. But she also tells an excellent story of passion with a slight romantic tinge to it but with enough wry detachment to it not to get sloppily romantic and it is this and the story of Aileen and Evie and their role that make it that bit different and make it work.

Publishing history

First published 2011 by Jonathan Cape