The forgotten waltz

by Anne Enright

Hardcover, 2011





New York : W. W. Norton & Co., 2011.


During a snowstorm, Gina Moynihan reminisces the string of events that brought her the love of her life, Sean Vallely, and recalls their affair.

Media reviews

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.
1 more

User reviews

LibraryThing member gbill
I wasn’t a big fan of Enright’s Man Booker winner “The Gathering” but decided to give her another go with “The Forgotten Waltz”, and this time was very impressed. This book had me from beginning to end.

“The Forgotten Waltz” is the story of a married woman’s affair with a married man who has a daughter, weaved together in layers of memories. The woman, Gina, looks back on her childhood, her relationships with her parents and sister over the years, the courtship of her husband Conor, and her first meeting with Sean, the man she is tempted by and ultimately has an affair with. It’s not like her marriage is a train wreck - she still loves her husband, but (eventually) knows her heart is with Sean and after some ups and downs that require soul searching, follows it. This is not romanticized; her adultery affects her relationships with others in her life, most notably her sister, and it is a serious challenge for her to start over with someone new.

The book is nuanced in its handling of the other events that life throws our way – the death of one’s parents, growing older into middle age, and fear for the well-being of one’s children. Sean’s daughter Evie has an undiagnosed medical condition that results in occasional seizures; this along with the collapse of her parent’s marriage elicits sympathy, but she also exhibits teenage behavior which Gina finds she must deal with as a part of the “Sean package”.

All of this feels very “real” and perhaps it’s for that reason that some readers are a little less enthusiastic, but I loved it for that. Enright tells the story with style; I loved the chapter titles, which were fitting names of songs (e.g. “Dance Me to the End of Love”, “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”), as well as her distinctive Irish perspective and humor, though the themes are of course common to all cultures. Recommended.

On adultery:
“We talked about his wife – because that is the thing about stolen love, it is important to know who it is you are stealing from.
‘You don’t understand,’ said Sean. But I did understand; the wrongness of his wife, whatever it was, and her inescapability. And to be honest, I was a bit fed up with his wife, who was always somehow there.”

“Who would have thought love could be so expensive? I should sit down and calculate it out at so much per kiss. …. If we keep going the price will come down – per event, as it were. Twenty years of love can be consummated for tuppence. After a lifetime it is almost free.”

This one as it relates to being the ‘other woman’:
“I spent my days trying to guess what Aileen might say, so I could say something different – and I learned, in jig time, not to mention illness of any kind. Or weakness even. I learned not to make him feel weak in any way.
I don’t know what she did to him, but she sure did it good.
It was a delicate business, being the Not Wife.”

On arguments, this with her sister after her reaction to finding out:
“The next few days were full of shouting. Much cliché. It seemed that everything was said. I mean everything, by everybody. The whole thing felt like a single sentence; one you could imagine bellowed, hissed, scrawled in lipstick on the bathroom mirror; you could carve it into your own flesh, you could chisel it on a fucking gravestone. And not one word of it mattered. Not one stupid word.
You never.
I always.
The thing about you is.

I didn’t tell her she could fuck off back to her muppet of a husband, who rolls on to her after his bottle of Friday-night wine, and then rolls off again. If she calls that love.”

On children:
“All children are beautiful: the thing they do with their eyes that seems so dazzling when they take you all in, or seem to take you all in; it’s like being looked at by an alien, or a cat – who knows what they see? So Evie is beautiful because she is a child, but she is pretty ordinary looking too.”

On divorce:
“I can’t believe I am free of all that. I just can’t believe it. That all you have to do is sleep with somebody and get caught and you never have to see your in-laws again. Ever. Pfffft! Gone. It’s the nearest thing to magic I have yet found.”

And this one, as it relates to kids in a divorce:
“It is my suspicion that, after this, Aileen finally confronted Sean with all the things she had known – for years. I suspect that she kicked him out. Because she realised the lies they told each other were wrecking Evie’s head.

…the fact seems to be that, at a time when it seemed most important, for Evie’s sake, that they should stay together, it was also vital, for Evie’s sake, that they should part.”

On holidays, when one is alone:
“That Christmas – I can not even think about that Christmas. Whoever invented Christmas should be shot.”

On love:
“I don’t know why I should worry about his infidelities to Aileen especially considering that I was one of them. I should take it as proof that he never loved her, though I think he really did love her once. Did he love my sister that day in Brittas? Or all of these women, all of the time? I don’t care.
He loves me now. Or he loves me too.
I love him. And that is as much as any of us can know.”

On lust:
“…it was very intimate and slightly dreamlike to see him there – like having a movie star in your kitchen, drinking tea – and I really wanted to fuck him, then. There was, for the first time, no other word for it. I wanted to make him real. A man I would cross the street to avoid at nine o’clock – by nine twenty-five I wanted to fuck him until he wept. My legs trembled with it. My voice floated out of my mouth when I opened it to speak.”

On men and women:
“What was it he had said again? ‘You have lovely skin.’ It seemed a bit all-purpose, at the time. ‘So soft.’ Why did men need to persuade themselves? Why did they have to have you, and make you up at the same time?”

“I do not know what he was thinking about. He might have been thinking about Evie, or about work, or about a woman at work. He might have been admiring the view, or wondering how much the houses were worth, between here and the sea. Perhaps he was pining for my sister Fiona, who is so pretty and sad. Or he might have been thinking about nothing. The way men often claim to do.”

On marriage:
“It was the last day of the year. I had decided to give up cigarettes in the morning. Maybe that was what it was all about: the yelp of the addict before it is all taken away. Or maybe it was because I was giving up for Sean, who found the smell of stale cigarettes so disgusting. So he too was looming as the day ticked on – this need I had to be right for Sean. And the anger that came with this was terrible; the pure annoyance of smashing my way out of one box, only to find myself in another one.”

On parenthood:
“How could he have done it, he said. To fail a child, it was beyond comprehending. It was not possible to fail a child. But he had done it. He had done the impossible thing.
I held him later, in the darkness, and told him the whole project is about failure. It has failure built in.”

“…where the bald children were, or the children with scars too big for their small bodies: all the hopeful little freaks. Very quickly, they stopped seeing the children’s diseases and saw them as real children, and this frightened them too: the idea that this reversal of nature could be an ordinary thing. They did not look at their own reflections. Not ever. Each sick, or even dying, child – beautiful as a flower – seemed to be attached to some unwashed parent, who slept on the floor, and forgot to get her roots done, and looked like a refugee.”

“Lovers can be replaced, I think – a little bitterly – but not children. Whoever she turns out to be, he is forever stuck with loving Evie.”
… (more)
LibraryThing member mrstreme
Had The Forgotten Waltz not been nominated for the 2012 Orange Prize, I probably wouldn't have read it. When I read The Gathering by Anne Enright, I found it to be such a bleak novel; I was not in a hurry to read something by Enright again. Thankfully, The Forgotten Waltz was a better reading experience.

At the core of this novel is an examination of modern marriage. Gina is newly married when she meets one of her sister's neighbors, Sean. Over time, Gina and Sean begin to have an affair. When Gina's mom died suddenly, Sean and Gina become little less careful about their secret, and eventually, they must make decisions about their marriages and their own relationship.

Sean has a daughter, Evie, who experienced unexplained seizures as a child, leaving Sean's wife, Aileen, overprotective and nervous. Enright does a commendable job showing the strains an unhealthy child can have on a marriage. Furthermore, Enright taps into the difficulties of becoming involved with a person who has a child. As the story progresses, Gina realizes that she will always be second to Evie's needs. She must decide if she can live with that.

Gina is an interesting character. If I knew her in real life, I would have to plan an intervention. She is fallible and borderline delusional about her relationships - not only with Sean, but with her husband, sister and deceased parents. She reaches for cigarettes and alcohol a lot, but what she really needs is a good therapist.

All in all, The Forgotten Waltz was a solid read that explored relationships, love and marriage. It just goes to show you: sometimes you can't judge an author by just one book.
… (more)
LibraryThing member edwinbcn
Readers' appreciation of a novel often depend on the extent to which they can identify with the main character. In The forgotten waltz, the main character, Gina Moynihan is a selfish and egotistical woman, and therefore, readers tend to dislike the character as well as the novel.

It is brave of Anne Enright to write a novel in which the narrator is a dislikable character. As a type, this protagonist is probably universal: a self-conscious, ambitious and modern woman, who is driven by unscrupulous lust and ambition. She is not 100% bad or evil. She is just that type of person, perhaps quite typical of the 1990s and early decades of the 21 century, that type of go-getter, with a good job, an eye always on stock market and real estate prices, believing social darwinism means cruelty is part of social competitiveness. Naturally, this is not the way she perceives herself. In her own self-perception, Gina appears a quite normal, emancipated woman. There are some (not so) subtle hints in the first part of the books that Gina would think of herself as particularly pure, worried of smut and dirt. There are several times references suggesting that other people are abnormal or weak, in her eyes. Gina's character is soon enough clear to the reader, who will realize that Gina should be considered an unreliable narrator. Her analysis of social relations, or morals and of her own motivations is incorrect.

While omitting any specific reasons, Gina seduces Seán Vallely at a barbecue party in her sister's garden. The total randomess of their relationship is emphasised by Gina's characterization of how it came about. She was looking intently at a man who was turned away from her. Had he not turned around, she would have let him go, but as he did turn around and face her, she made her move.

From the way Gina has described her husband Conor, mentally undressing him as in her mind she strips his well-built body -- a jacket, and under that a shirt, and under that a T-shirt, and under that a tattoo...-- it is clear that Gina picks her man on physical appearance and her own lust rather than anything else. The fact that Seán is married matters not to her. The time when adultery was a man's thing lies far in the past.

Apparently, Gina is very successful at seducing Seán, but meets one obstacle: the couple's daughter, Evie. The child is a factor that Gina has not reckoned with, and completely underestimates.

Ever since Freud, it is clear that children are no longer just innocent. The novella that first attested to that insight is probably Henry James' What Masie knew. The forgotten waltz is a modern variation on this theme.

Anne Enright's prose is almost as understated as that of Beryl Bainbridge, but gives the reader more clues. Likewise, The forgotten waltz is a fairly thin novel.

True, The forgotten waltz was not quite an enjoyable read, but then leaves the reader with a lot to ponder.
… (more)
LibraryThing member ReadHanded
The writing in this novel was excellent. It tells the story of an extramarital affair between the narrator, Gina, and Sean, a man whose family she meets through her sister. The story is realistic and bleak, following the couple from their first meeting, through their trysts and secrets, and past their selfish disregard for the promises and people they leave behind.

I don't really like Gina as a person. She's very self-absorbed, which we all are to some degree, but Gina really does not give thought to anyone but herself. Take this for example:

"I can't believe I am free of all that. I just can't believe it. That all you have to do is sleep with somebody and get caught and you never have to see your in-laws again. Ever. Pfffft! Gone. It's the nearest thing to magic I have yet found" (pg. 41).

When Gina leaves her husband and Sean leaves his wife, Gina learns that the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence, it's really just the same grass, just in a different spot:

"I thought it would be a different life, but sometimes it is like the same life in a dream: a different man coming in the door, a different man hanging his coat on the hook. He comes home late, he goes out to the gym, he gets stuck on the internet: we don't spend our evenings in restaurants, or dine by candlelight anymore, we don't even eat together, most of the time. I don't know what I expected. That receipts would not have to be filed, or there would be no such thing as bad kitchen cabinets, or that Sean would switch on a little sidelamp instead of flicking the main switch when he enters a room" (pg. 204).

So, the writing is excellent, the story is compelling, and the characters are self-absorbed.
… (more)
LibraryThing member SamSattler
Almost exactly four years ago, Ireland’s Anne Enright was the “surprise winner” of the Man Booker Prize for what is said to be a rather bleak novel called The Gathering. Despite my good intentions, I have yet to read that one, but after reading her latest work, The Forgotten Waltz, I have to wonder if Enright does not specialize in “bleak.”

Set in a Dublin suburb, The Forgotten Waltz recounts Gina Moynihan’s reflections on a love affair she seems almost destined to have had, an affair in which she is the one wearing the tarnished label of “The Other Woman.” Herself married at the time, Gina was immediately attracted to Sean Vallely when she first encountered him at a family function. The two would be thrown together numerous additional times before the more oblivious Sean would finally succumb to the affair that would ultimately break up both marriages.

Complicating the affair for both Sean and Gina, is Sean’s young daughter Evie. Evie is said to be a “special” child, one with fragile health – she suffers seizures - who, at least to Gina, seems to be uncannily observant of her father’s moods and whereabouts. Almost despite herself, Gina is drawn to Evie in some inexplicable way and comes to believe that, without Evie, the affair with Sean would never have happened. Gina’s life, of which the reader will share the most intimate of details, is further complicated by a deteriorating relationship with her sister, the breakup of her marriage, the death of her mother, and the challenge of competing with Evie for Sean’s love and attention.

Frankly, nothing out of the ordinary happens in The Forgotten Waltz. Enright’s story is one of commonplace adultery, the kind of love triangle that happens all around us, whether we notice or stop to think about it, every day. What makes the book memorable is Enright’s ability to get so deeply inside the head of a narrator like Gina, someone honest enough with herself not to try to rationalize her involvement with a man like Sean. Before she takes up with him, Gina knows that Sean has a loving wife – and, perhaps even more importantly, a daughter who needs him - but she gives little thought to their needs. She wants Sean for herself, and when she gets him, guilt is not much of an issue for her.

None of the characters in The Forgotten Waltz are particularly likeable but, thanks to Anne Enright’s way with words, they are real. These are just ordinary people making do with what life throws their way. They do not always make the best decisions or choices, but tomorrow always comes - and they get to try again. Isn’t that just the way it is?

Rated at: 3.5
… (more)
LibraryThing member Nickelini
Gina narrates her story about living in a very modern Ireland, and cheating on her husband with a married man. And that's the novel in a sentence.

What I Liked: I haven't read much Irish literature, but I really like what I've read so far. There is a world view or a voice or something that I find unusual, but not foreign--sort of like an off-kilter version of the world I know. The Forgotten Waltz fits in with what I know about Irish lit in that case. I liked how the booming, and then busting, Ireland of the early 21st century is almost a character in this novel. But what was strongest for me was the narrator's voice--she spoke deeply about very common things, yet had an outlook that is so different from my own, or anyone I've ever known, that I was intrigued by what would come out of her mouth next. This was aided by the audiobook reader who had a charming Irish accent--this is a world where people "tink about tings" ("think about things").

What I Didn't Like: I didn't quite get the point. It was interesting to listen to this Irish person ramble on about the mess she makes of her life, but it didn't go anywhere. I also didn't see much development or growth in any of the characters. And what does the title mean? I guess the back and forth structure and the back and forth relationships are a bit of a waltz, but where is the forgotten aspect? Is it that I will forget this book a week after I finish it?

Recommended for: There is some strong writing and mastery of voice here, so if that's your thing (I mean "ting"), then try it. If you need to like your characters, or find them having a degree of integrity, or if you need a strong plot, then skip this one.
… (more)
LibraryThing member smcbeth
This is a beautifully written novel describing the feelings, emotions, touch, sounds and sights of passion when one experiences the temporary insanity called "in love". No wonder those Victorian women who took to their beds and died of broken hearts. It's real. Enright examines through her novel the destruction and havoc this temporary insanity can cause, and how helpless one can be when trapped inside it. The writing is poetic. Enright won the Booker a couple of years ago for The Gathering. I loved this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member Niecierpek
It’s a nicely executed tale of an extra-marital affair. The affair very much like other affairs- nothing surprising here if you don’t take the absence of passion as a surprising factor. The book is narrated very matter-of-factly by Gina- an attractive and thoroughly modern thirty-something year old who lives in Dublin, and works in a thoroughly modern office having something to do with media and IT. The book is just well written until we hit the parts that deal with the death of Gina’s mother. These seem to have more depth- there is more colour to Gina’s past life than there is ever to her present love affair. That is unless we take her stepchild, Evie, into account: Evie is a colourful and interesting character in her own right.
It’s a book without a climax, reminiscent of Richard Wright’s Adultery, in which the adultery happens at the very beginning of the tale, and the rest of the novel is piecing together how it happened. Nice language, and a style that I can easily imagine a woman like Gina to be using to narrate her story. With witty one-liners that I wish I could remember.
… (more)
LibraryThing member tangledthread
If likable characters are one of your criteria for a good book, then this one isn't it.
There are some interesting things about the book: It is a first person narrative by Gina Moynahan, a 32 year old, childless, married woman who embarks on an affair with a married man who does have a child....a rather special child, Evie.
The narrative is rambling, contradictory, and doubles back on itself as you hear Gina's side of a story complete with her perceptions and judgments of other people and their motives. These perceptions and judgements change like quicksilver, sometimes within the same sentence.
At times, the narrative is like overhearing one side of a conversation in a coffee shop, or a cellphone conversation of a woman whose time would be better spent on a therapist's couch. Gina is shallow, self-centered, has few scruples, and is motivated by the trappings that money can buy.
The setting is Dublin during the boom time of the early 2000's, heading into the crash of 2008. So money and housing are very important to the are booze, cigarettes, and lust.
And the one thing...actually person...that Gina's story hinges upon is dealt with very peripherally at the beginning and end of her story. And that is Evie, the daughter of Gina's lover, Sean. But this is characteristic of the way Gina deals with life.

The writing is very well done, even if the story is a bit worn and without much plot. Because of the economic boom and bust theme of the book, I can't help wonder if this is a bit of allegorical tale of Ireland.
… (more)
LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
I loved this book. All the characters are perfectly believable. Unlike most Orange Prize nominated books there's no war, poverty or violence; but there is a very accurate description of a woman engaged in an adulterous affair, the economic downturn, mothers and daughters, fathers and daughters, a young girl ascending into adolescence, the reaction of parents to their child's health problems, the attempt to woo the child of a lover. I believed in these people and their reactions and their acceptance of life's being less than they had expected. This was a nomination well deserved.… (more)
LibraryThing member Berly
Well, I am not alone. No one in my book group liked Forgotten Waltz, by Anne Enright. It was supposedly "a tour de force" in the reviews and satirically funny, but I beg to differ. I wasn't attracted to any of the characters. After reading Gina's descriptions of her husband and lover, I couldn't figure out for the life of me why she fell for them in the first place. I also kept waiting for more on the story of the daughter, and how all of this infidelity had affected her, but not much was forthcoming. And worst of all, Enright circled back around through the whole mess again and the literary trick of seeing things from a new viewpoint, or with more knowledge, did nothing to help. I cringed when I saw we were back at the beginning. I grudgingly give it two stars, simply because I did finish it. Maybe I should re-evaluate my ranking system.… (more)
LibraryThing member SalemAthenaeum
In Terenure, a pleasant suburb of Dublin, in the winter of 2009, it has snowed. Gina Moynihan, a girl about town, recalls the trail of lust and happenstance that brought her to fall for "the love of her life," Sean Vallely. As the city outside comes to a halt, Gina remembers the days of their affair in one hotel room or another, long afternoons made blank by bliss and denial. Now, as the streets and the stillness and the vertigo of the falling snow make the day luminous and full of possibility, Gina walks through the weather to meet a girl she calls Sean's "beautiful mistake": his fragile, twelve-year-old daughter, Evie.… (more)
LibraryThing member starbox
Basically, quite good chick-lit. The narrator embarks on an extra-marital affair with the curiously unlikeable Sean, but his epileptic daughter is part of the package.
LibraryThing member librarygeek33
I read this book because of an article I enjoyed about the author, Anne Enright. Her sense of humor intrigued me and led me to this book. I was not disappointed and will read more of her work.
I love the description, loosely quoted, I recently heard (third person) of "Literary Fiction" being a book in which not much happens. The Forgotten Waltz is such a novel. The best words I can come up with is that the writing, although it is prose, is poetry. For example, one of my favorite lines is; "I walked up to the threshold with badness on my mind."
The reason this isn't a rave review is that there is a section that I found to be a bit "plodding." I should also mention that readers should be aware that the main subject involves adultery and there are some "choice words" scattered throughout which may turn some people off.
I dislike rambling reviews, so in the interest of keeping it short, I you enjoy quirky, introspective, masterful writing (I refuse to categorize this as "Irish Fiction"), give this one a try.
… (more)
LibraryThing member sunnydrk
Recommended by literary journalists in numerous publications, I jumped at this book. After 2 months of trying to "get through it". I finally finished. What was it about? I have no idea. The story was disjointed and forced. There was no character development and the writing was well, let's just say that it must have been way over my head as I just didn't get it. The story is told by Gina, a self-centered, narcisstic character who can't even tell a good story. I would have stopped before the book was done but I held out hope until the end that the book would get better.… (more)
LibraryThing member rglossne
Four stars for excellent writing; however, the least likable and emptiest characters ever written. Universally disliked by my book club.
LibraryThing member creynolds
I expected to like this more because of awards it has won. It was fine, but I had a hard time really getting involved with the characters or finding the situation relevant.
LibraryThing member ccayne
Beautiful writing. Believable characters and situation but not one you would want any part of. Tough examination of love, marriage, passion.
LibraryThing member lindap69
Despite the rave reviews for this book I did not like the narrative tone and could not feel empathetic with the characters perhaps I will try her first book which I realize is what all the back cover rave reviews were for!
LibraryThing member lizchris
This is a story of obsessive love. It captures how it feels to be blind to everything but the object of your love, hurting, bankrupting, abandoning everyone else, how you become so blinkered, your entire view of the world changes.
The story is set in Dublin against the backdrop of the financial crisis of 2008, which weaves its way through the story in tumbling house-prices and lost jobs.
The subject-matter is dramatic and intense, the writing is perfect - quiet, sparse, pared-down.
… (more)
LibraryThing member margaret.armour
I couldn't quite wrap my mind around this one...
LibraryThing member amandanan
2.5 stars.

I never got hooked into this book. I only finished it because I enjoyed Enright's writing, but I never really understood where it was going. Or what she was doing.
LibraryThing member cat-ballou
So I read this in one night. Thick pages & generously-sized font, yes, but also a compelling story.
LibraryThing member cat-ballou
So I read this in one night. Thick pages & generously-sized font, yes, but also a compelling story.
LibraryThing member thorold
First-person adultery, with the passion offset by Enright's characteristically oblique, ironic view of life. Her narrator, Dublin young professional Gina, is well-aware of her own faults (and even more so of everyone else's), but she can't stop herself from a course that breaks up two marriages and risks alienating her sister as well...

Touching and funny, with some very acute social observation (I didn't realise before reading this how many different uses Irish English has for the exclamation "Look at you!"), but it felt a bit slight compared to the more recent Actress, which uses what seems to be a more developed and three-dimensional version of the same narrator. Anyway, I can't help feeling that there must be something intrinsically unconvincing about a book that rests on the assumption that two people (plus his daughter) could love a management consultant.
… (more)


Local notes

inscribed by author


Page: 0.2616 seconds