The Washington Post
…so beautifully written that you could read it once just for the dazzle of the prose, then start over for the content…The sensibility is subtle and complex, as the narrative explores connections between desire and responsibility…and the complicated ways in which duty is refracted into the rest of our lives. It's about love, and sex, and the sinuous, unexpected paths they create, and the way they are inevitably entwined with family. It's about fear and obligation and passion and ways in which we explain our actions to ourselves. The way we give up something we thought essential, for something that is. It's hard to say which is more satisfying about this book: its emotional complexities or the frugal elegance of its prose.
The New York Times Book Review
The Forgotten Waltz is a nervy enterprise, an audacious bait-and-switch. Cloaked in a novel about a love affair is a ferocious indictment of the self-involved material girls our era has produced. Enright's channeling of Gina's interior monologue is so accurate and unsparing that reading her book is, at times, like eavesdropping on a very long, crazily intimate cellphone conversation. It's a testament to the unwavering fierceness of Enright's project that I mean this as high praise. We've all met people like the characters in her book. Neither evil nor good, they're merely awful in entirely ordinary ways. And it's impressive, how skillfully Anne Enright has gotten them on the page.
In this gorgeous critique of Ireland as the Celtic Tiger draws its dying breaths, Enright chronicles an affair between 32-year-old Gina Moynihan, and Seán Vallely, a rich, dutiful husband and a devoted if somewhat inept father to the otherworldly, epileptic Evie, not yet 13. Set against a backdrop of easy money, second homes, and gratuitous spending, the dissolution of Gina's and Sean's marriages is both an antidote to and a symptom of the economic prosperity that gripped the country until its sudden and devastating fall from grace in 2008: "In Ireland, if you leave the house and there is a divorce, then you lose the house.... You have to sleep there to keep your claim.... You think it is about sex, and then you remember the money." There are, as with any affair, casualties, but what weighs most heavily on Gina is not what will become of her husband, Conor, but rather Evie, who sees Gina kissing her father, and innocently asks if she might be kissed too, oblivious to the fact that this moment heralds the end of her family. She eventually becomes all too aware that her father is gone and that she's stuck with her sad, neurotic mother. And so the question that remains at the end of this masterful and deeply satisfying novel is not just what will happen to Ireland, but what will happen to Evie? (Oct.)
Ed Park - Time Magazine
“Booker winner Enright is so good, she can turn falling real estate values into a thing of beauty.”
Francine Prose - New York Times Book Review
“The Forgotten Waltz is a nervy enterprise, an audacious bait-and-switch. Cloaked in a novel about a love affair is a ferocious indictment of the self-loved material girls our era has produced. Enright’s channeling of Gina’s interior monologue is so accurate and unsparing that reading the book is like eavesdropping on a very long, crazily intimate cellphone conversation. It’s a testament to the unwavering fierceness of Enright’s project that I mean this as high praise. We’ve all met people like the characters in her book. Neither evil nor good, they’re merely awful in entirely ordinary ways. And it’s impressive, how skillfully Anne Enright has gotten them on the page.”
“This stunning novel...offers up its brilliance by way of astonishingly effective storytelling. ...The vicissitudes of extramarital love...are tracked with a raw clarity expressed in magnetically precise prose.”
Lizzie Skurnick - O Magazine
“In America we like our adultery served straight up: a bubble of illicit passion that ends in regret. That’s not what Irish novelist Anne Enright is serving in The Forgotten Waltz, which forgoes the simple morality tale for something more complex and satisfying. … Casting aside cultural bromides about the immorality of affairs, Enright puts us squarely in the center of a terrible truth: Love can be miraculousand still destroy everything in its path.””
Clare McHugh - Wall Street Journal
“[T]he novel is also a beautiful, subtle examination of intimacy, of family life, and of the enduring connection between father and daughter, a bond that wayward adult passion cannot override … In The Forgotten Waltz reality is crystal clear and the damage that characters do to themselves and others sharply drawn, and yet Ms. Enright is never obvious or heavy-handed. She has made a careful study of the way people interpret and react to their parents, siblings, children and partners and captures much that is startlingly recognizable. The humorous details that she employs and the compassion that she shows for her flawed characters make the book luminous even as it tells a rather bleak story.”
“Enrightwistful, equivocal, angrygives voice to her characters with remarkable sympathy and precision, and she is never heavy-handed in tracing the connections between the private and public lives of capital.”
Megan O'Grady - Vogue
“Moving from the initial riptide of desire to the compromises of Gina's post-divorce life with her lover and his adolescent daughter, whose ungainly presence lends the book its fundamental poignancy, Enright suggests there's a quiet tragedy in adultery's modern-day ordinariness, in which the costs of betrayal are measured less in terms of shame than in house sales.”
Kate Christensen - Elle Magazine
“Anne Enright...has written a new, unapologetic kind of adultery novel.
This novel's beauty lies in Enright's spare, poetic, off-kilter proseat once heart-breaking and subversively funny. It's built of startling little surprises and one fresh sentence after another. Enright captures the heady eroticism of an extramarital affair and the incendiary egomania that accompanies secret passion...”
Joy Press - Los Angeles Times
“Anne Enright tells a funny, dark, no-judgments tale of rapture and ambivalence. … The real magic is in Enright’s prose, which burrows into characters like fingernails into skin, peeling back the hidden layers of ordinary interactions and momentary thoughts. Material that another writer might string across a whole book, Enright burns up in a page, like it’s nothing, using it to create a jagged portrait of Dublin during the recent boom.”
Lisa Verge Higgins - New York Journal of Books
“There are said to be Chinese artists who can etch pretty little pictures on the surface of a grain of ricescenes that, with the help of a magnifying glass, are revealed in elaborate detail. Anne Enright’s latest book, The Forgotten Waltz, evokes the same kind of wonder, with one significant difference: The scenes the author so delicately sketches are dark dramas of domestic dysfunction. In this case, Ms. Enright has penned an emotional autopsy of an infidelity.””
Kimberly Cutter - Marie Claire
“Anne Enright’s exhilarating novel The Forgotten Waltz … explores a life-altering affair between two seemingly unremarkable Irish professionals with such exquisite attention, honesty, and wit as to make every sentence throb with life. Don’t start this book if you have anything else to do for the rest of the day because it will not get done. … [Our narrator,] Gina is not interested in what she’s supposed to feel but in what she does feelan ever-shifting, primal range of emotions that readers will recognize with delight. It’s that wonderful feeling that you get from the best fiction: Ah, at last somebody said it.”
“It’s relatively rare for a sophisticated, thought-provoking novel to titillate, but Anne Enright’s new book The Forgotten Waltz is a scintillating exception to the rule….You know those books that unfold and surround you? This is one of those…. Enright mesmerizes with her insights into the convoluted paths human thoughts and desires take…. But besides its fierce intelligence, this book is just plain sexy.”
Roxana Robinson - Washington Post
“Everything in [The Forgotten Waltz] is perfectly engineered, and it’s so beautifully written that you could read it once just for the dazzle of the prose, then start over for the content. … [T]his book makes me feel that Enright could do anything. … It’s hard to say which is more satisfying about this book: its emotional complexities or the frugal elegance of its prose. … I suggest you climb into this book, lean back and trust Enright to take you wherever she wants to go.”
Valerie Ryan - Seattle Times
“Anne Enright, 2007 Man Booker Prize winner for The Gathering, has once again brought the reader into the heart of a story as old as time, made brand new by her fine hand…. Enright makes the mundane momentous with very few words. The immediacy with which she writes tells the reader to pay attention and look below the surface…. Anne Enright is uncannily deft at portraying lust and passion as they morph into resignation and the realization that one marriage may be much like another…. Addictive reading.”
Holloway McCandless - Shelf Awareness
“For readers who can countenance unapologetic female infidelity (at least in fiction), The Forgotten Waltz is a must-readit delivers Enright’s incantatory and highly mineralized prose, her virtuoso capturing of mood and confirms her ability to create nuanced characters of all ages and backgrounds. This mature novel practically flaunts a wry, take-no-prisoners narrator who can make you laugh and wince.”
Elizabeth Taylor - Chicago Tribune
“The Forgotten Waltz is so darkly funny, and laser sharp, that it is possible to read it solely as a well-written adultery novel, an infidelity showstopper. … But Enright is too interesting a writer to offer up merely an exquisitely written adultery drama. In the book she makes a profoundly insightful connection between adultery and overspending and borrowing.”
Time Out Chicago
“Enright’s shimmering prose captures the nuances of light and dark in nature and in society, and she deftly creates memorable characters living in the many and busy little nothings that form the drama of everyday life.”
The Paris Review
“The considerable narrative pleasures of this novel lie in Enright’s luminous language, as she sketches Gina’s attempts to figure out what happened and how and why.”
Pam Houston - More Magazine
“Amid the heartbreaking bewilderments of reconfigured families, Enright makes us believe entirely in the most ill-begotten brand of love.”
She's a sharp-tongued home wrecker who doesn't try to ingratiate herself. But in this corrosively beautiful novel from Man Booker Prize winner Enright (The Gathering), you want to drag back Gina Moynihan as she recounts plunging headlong into the affair that will change her life. Gina met Seán Vallely at sister Fiona's house and first made love to him, without much preamble, while drunk at a business conference. Lectured by her sister, who proclaims that their just-deceased mother would have been mortified, Gina silently disagrees. Surely Mum would have appreciated this affair, which has liberated Gina from…what? The dread of domesticity with teddybearish but somewhat dense husband Conor? Boredom with a lock-step job in Ireland's grim economy? Writing with cool, clear-eyed logic, Enright is brave and persuasive enough to paint Seán as less than ideal; he's a rigid bully and not overwhelmingly attractive. Through Gina's determined pursuit of their relationship, we see the stupefying nature of desire, which Enright deftly contrasts with the sometimes equally stupefying nature of parenting; Gina's big competition is not Seán's wife but his sweet, not-quite-right daughter. VERDICT A breathtaking work that will surprise you; highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 4/11/11.]—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
An adulterous love affair and Ireland's financial collapse overlap in the consistently impressive latest from the Man Booker Prize winner.
Real estate, materialism and family ties form the background to the story of an intense physical liaison between Gina Moynihan and Sean Vallely, narrated by Gina in a voice simultaneously smart and cynical, wry and all too conscious of the impact of their actions. With exquisite perception, Enright (Yesterday's Weather,2008, etc.) lifts a conventional story of infidelity into a larger study of connection, catastrophe and anguish, leavened by dark humor. What begins as a casual, clandestine sequence of encounters in hotel rooms between two married individuals slowly gathers momentum and, as her mother dies and the property market implodes, Gina's drift away from the husband she has loved becomes complete. The lovers end up living in Gina's mother's old home, previously valued at "two and a bit" but now worth nothing as no one will buy. Not so much a love story, more a consideration of female bonds and choices—men, work, children—and the unruly depths of human emotions, Enright's book once again brings melancholy lyricism to a domestic scenario and lifts it into another dimension.
In rueful, witty, unpredictable and compassionate prose, Enright gives expression to subtle, affecting shades of human interaction.
Read an Excerpt
I met him in my sister’s garden in Enniskerry. That is where I saw him first. There was nothing fated about it, though I add in the late summer light and the view. I put him at the bottom of my sister’s garden, in the afternoon, at the moment the day begins to turn. Half five maybe. It is half past five on a Wicklow summer Sunday when I see Seán for the first time. There he is, where the end of my sister’s garden becomes uncertain. He is about to turn around – but he doesn’t know this yet. He is looking at the view and I am looking at him. The sun is low and lovely. He is standing where the hillside begins its slow run down to the coast, and the light is at his back, and it is just that time of day when all the colours come into their own.
It is some years ago now. The house is new and this is my sister’s housewarming party, or first party, a few months after they moved in. The first thing they did was take down the wooden fence, to get their glimpse of the sea, so the back of the house sits like a missing tooth in the row of new homes, exposed to the easterly winds and to curious cows; a little stage set, for this afternoon, of happiness.
They have new neighbours in, and old pals, and me, with a few cases of wine and the barbecue they put on their wedding list but ended up buying themselves. It sits on the patio, a green thing with a swivelling bucket of a lid, and my brother-in-law Shay – I think he even wore the apron – waves wooden tongs over lamb steaks and chicken drumsticks, while cracking cans of beer, high in the air, with his free hand.
Fiona keeps expecting me to help because I am her sister. She passes with an armful of plates and shoots me a dark look. Then she remembers that I am a guest and offers me some Chardonnay.
‘Yes,’ I say. ‘Yes, I’d love some, thanks,’ and we chat like grown-ups. The glass she fills me is the size of a swimming pool.
It makes me want to cry to think of it. It must have been 2002. There I was, just back from three weeks in Australia and mad – just mad – into Chardonnay. My niece Megan must have been four, my nephew nearly two: fantastic, messy little items, who look at me like they are waiting for the joke. They have friends in, too. It’s hard to tell how many kids there are, running around the place – I think they are being cloned in the downstairs bathroom. A woman goes in there with one toddler and she always comes out fussing over two.
I sit beside the glass wall between the kitchen and garden – it really is a lovely house – and I watch my sister’s life. The mothers hover round the table where the kids’ food is set, while, out in the open air, the men sip their drinks and glance skywards, as though for rain. I end up talking to a woman who is sitting beside a plate of chocolate Rice Krispie cakes and working her way through them in a forgetful sort of way. They have mini-marshmallows on top. She goes to pop one in her mouth, then she pulls back in surprise.
‘Ooh, pink!’ she says.
I don’t know what I was waiting for. My boyfriend, Conor, must have been dropping someone off or picking them up – I can’t remember why he wasn’t back. He would have been driving. He usually drove, so I could have a few drinks. Which was one of the good things about Conor, I have to say. These days, it’s me who drives. Though that is an improvement, too.
And I don’t know why I remember the chocolate Rice Krispies, except that ‘Ooh, pink!’ seemed like the funniest thing I had ever heard, and we ended up weak with laughter, myself and this nameless neighbour of my sister’s – she, in particular, so crippled by mirth you couldn’t tell if it was appendicitis or hilarity had her bent over. In the middle of which, she seemed to keel off her chair a little. She rolled to the side, while I just kept looking at her and laughing. Then she hit the ground running and began a low charge, out through the glass door and towards my brother-in-law.
The jet lag hit.
I remember the strangeness of it. This woman lumbering straight at Shay, while he cooked on; the hissing meat, the flames; me thinking, ‘Is this night-time? What time is it, anyway?’ while the chocolate Rice Krispie cake died on my lips. The woman stooped, as if to tackle Shay by the shins, but when she rose, it was with a small, suddenly buoyant child in her arms, and she was saying, ‘Out of there, all right? Out of there!’
The child looked around him, indifferent, more or less, to this abrupt change of scene. Three, maybe four years old: she set him down on the grass and went to hit him. At least, I thought so. She raised a hand to him and then suddenly back at herself, as though to clear a wasp from in front of her face.
‘How many times do I have to tell you?’
Shay lifted an arm to crack a beer, and the child ran off, and the woman just stood there, running her wayward hand through her hair.
That was one thing. There were others. There was Fiona, her cheeks a hectic pink, her eyes suddenly wet from the sheer la-la-lah of pouring wine and laughing gaily and being a beautiful mother forward slash hostess in her beautiful new house.
And there was Conor. My love. Who was late.
It is 2002, and already, none of these people smoke. I sit on my own at the kitchen table and look for someone to talk to. The men in the garden seem no more interesting than they did when I arrived – in their short-sleeved shirts and something about their casual trousers that still screams ‘slacks’. I am just back from Australia. I remember the guys you see along Sydney Harbour-front at lunchtime, an endless line of them; running men, tanned and fit; men you could turn around and follow without knowing that you were following them, the same way you might pick up a goddamn Rice Krispie cake and not know that you were eating it, until you spotted the marshmallow on the top.
I really want a cigarette now. Fiona’s children have never seen one, she told me – Megan burst into tears when an electrician lit up in the house. I pull my bag from the back of the chair and idle my way across the threshold, past Shay, who waves a piece of meat at me, through rainbleached tricycles and cheerful suburbanites, down to where Fiona’s little rowan tree stands tethered to its square stake and the garden turns to mountainside. There is a little log house here for the kids, made out of brown plastic: a bit disgusting actually – the logs look so fake, they might as well be moulded out of chocolate, or some kind of rubberised shit. I lurk behind this yoke – and I am so busy making this seem a respectable thing to do; leaning into the fence, smoothing my skirt, furtively rooting in my bag for smokes, that I do not see him until I light up, so my first sight of Seán (in this, the story I tell myself about Seán) takes place at the beginning of my first exhalation: his body; the figure he makes against the view, made hazy by the smoke of a long-delayed Marlboro Light.
He is, for a moment, completely himself. He is about to turn around, but he does not know this yet. He will look around and see me as I see him and, after this, nothing will happen for many years. There is no reason why it should.
It really feels like night-time. The light is wonderful and wrong – it’s like I have to pull the whole planet around in my head to get to this garden, and this part of the afternoon and to this man, who is the stranger I sleep beside now.
A woman comes up and speaks to him in a low voice. He listens to her over his shoulder, then he twists further to look at a small girl who hangs back from them both.
‘Oh for God’s sake, Evie,’ he says. And he sighs – because it is not the child herself who is annoying him but something else; something larger and more sad.
The woman goes back to scrub at the gunk on Evie’s face with a paper napkin that shreds itself on her sticky skin. Seán watches this for a few seconds. And then he looks over to me.
These things happen all the time. You catch a stranger’s eye, for a moment too long, and then you look away.
I was just back from holidays – a week with Conor’s sister in Sydney, then north to this amazing place where we learned how to scuba dive. Where we also learned, as I recall, how to have sex while sober; a simple trick, but a good one, it was like taking off an extra skin. Maybe this was why I could meet Seán’s eye. I had just been to the other side of the world. I was looking, by my own standards, pretty good. I was in love – properly in love – with a man I would soon decide to marry, so when he looked at me, I did not feel afraid.
Perhaps I should have done.
And I can’t, for the life of me, recall what Evie looked like that day. She would have been four, but I can’t think how that would play on the girl I know now. All I saw that afternoon was a child with a dirty face. So Evie is just a kind of smudge in the picture, which is otherwise so clear.
Because the amazing thing is how much I got in that first glance: how much, in retrospect, I should have known. It is all there: the twitch of interest I had in Seán, the whole business with Evie; I remember this very clearly, as I remember the neat and indomitable politeness of his wife. I got her straight off, and nothing she subsequently did surprised me or proved me wrong. Aileen, who never changed her hair, who was then and will always remain a size 10. I could wave to Aileen now, across the bridge of years, and she would give me the same look she gave me then, pretty much. Because she knew me too. On sight. And even though she was so smiling and correct, I did not fail to see her intensity.
Aileen, I think it would be fair to say, has not moved on.
I am not sure I have, myself. Somewhere up by the house, Marshmallow Woman is laughing too hard, Conor is elsewhere, Aileen’s paper napkin, in a tasteful shade of lime-green, will soon leave shreds of itself on Evie’s sticky skin, and Seán will glance my way. But not yet. For the moment, I am just breathing out.
From the Hardcover edition.