Anne Enright has indeed lived up to the promise of caustic wit in her new novel, Forgotten Waltz, published by Jonathan Cape, a worthy follow-on to the award winning, The Gathering, and confirming her position as one of our great living authors.
In this book, she moves her dateline up and sets it in the flourishing tiger economy years but straightforward narrative is not Enright's literary style. By the end of the first chapter we know the bones of the story and the remainder of the book mulls backwards and forwards over an idea, the concept of adultery. The story is told in the first person by Gina Moynihan and in retrospect, in the harsh winter of 2009, harsh in weather and harsh in the now failing economy. She looks back to 2002 when she first met Sean, her lover-to-be, in her sister, Fiona's new posh house in Enniskerry. Through Fiona, Gina comes in contact with the new rich society who had the kind of parties 'where no one ate the chicken skin' and women who 'had the confused look that Botox gives you, like you might be having an emotion, but you couldn't remember which one' and whose husbands 'stood about and talked property: a three-pool complex in Bulgaria, a whole Irish block in Berlin'. Fiona has two children and Sean and his wife, Aileen, have a little girl who seems 'not quite right'. Gina then takes us through the progress of her affair with Sean and her failing relationship with 'the love of her life', Conor.
But to say that the novel is just the story of an affair is to do an injustice to Enright. Her skill is not only in the wit she brings to it but the surprising depth of thought and observation. There is pathos as well as humour. Her account of her mother's illness is haunting. She was a woman for whom 'illness was not something she allowed herself. It was so unattractive. And terribly hard on the skin'. And Gina's relationship with Evie, Sean's subteen daughter, is brilliantly and sharply told.
Enright is a wordsmith and her descriptions are precise and captivating. On just one page we sit around Fiona's 'witty formica table', we see 'a tight little herd of nine-year-old girls' and sit 'in the secret hum of his scent'. And she does sex well though Gina says she doesn't know if 'sex' is the word for it. 'We didn't talk much. Silence made it that bit filthier of course. And people do not speak, in a dream'. Enright has taken a theme as old as the hills and somehow makes it new and a concept to be pondered and reconsidered in a society no longer so sure of its moral values. She does 'dark' as well as the master of the genre, McGahern, but, unlike him, she has now shown she can do something quite different just as brilliantly.
I wondered about the title. Each chapter is given the title of an old love song like 'Will you Love me Tomorrow' 'Paper Roses' and so on and I tried to discover if 'Forgotten Waltz' was one but had no luck in my search. Perhaps someone out there has an answer.