The Forgotten Waltz/Anne Enright: Reflections

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Readers will be of different minds about Anne Enright's newest novel, The Forgotten Waltz (W.W. Norton).  Those who loved her Booker Prize winning The Gathering—who couldn't stop dreaming it, thinking it, worrying it—will feel at home inside the sprawling intelligence and dead-on ache of this new book.  Those who seek the undergirding of a plotted beginning, middle, and end will perhaps clamor for more undergirding. I happen to fall firmly within the former camp.  Anne Enright thrills me.  Her audacity does.  Her utter, sometimes even wicked command of the interplay between people who are, let's face it, not entirely true to either themselves or to each other.  Which means they are just like the rest of us.

Book summaries pain me.  I never see that as my job.  I limit my responsibilities here to evocations—to letting you know how I felt when I read, and as I read The Forgotten Waltz I felt, from the very first, taken in, absorbed, urgent in my need to know, to read more deeply in.  I felt alive to Gina Moynihan, Enright's narrator, who is looking back, in a season of snow, on the mystery and ruin of an adulterous affair.  The affair hasn't proceeded well; we know this from the start.  It has destroyed two marriages, put houses up for sale, and haunted a child who was not altogether well to begin with.  Maybe it was all irresistible.  Was it?  But who is better off in the end?

This a novel that slides back and forth over time and disclosure, through love and accusation, in and out of jobs and hotel rooms, between Ireland and elsewhere.  It is a novel that seems to be about one thing then shifts toward another, a novel that doesn't entirely give up the logic of its title.  This is a novel, in other words, that doesn't presume the arrogance of a set-aside, easily cataloged or marketed theme.  Enright creates voices.  She moves them across the page.  They digress, they attack, they submit, they desire, they turn the story on its head, they whisper, they groan.  They rail against reason.  They want to be reasoned with.  And never—never once—do they concede.

Here's Gina speaking:

I feel that the world might be better if it was run by girls who are nearly twelve, the ability they have to be fully moral and fully venal at the same time.  Capitalism would certainly thrive.

Here is the passage that I believe explains the workings of this book.  The workings, perhaps, of Enright's brilliant and irreducible mind:

When I was twelve or so, I used to practise astral flying—it must have been a fashion then.  I lay on my back in bed, and when I was fully heavy, too heavy to move, I got up, in my mind, and left the house.  I went down the stairs and out the front door. I walked or I drifted along the street. If I wanted to, I flew.  And I imagined, or I saw, every single detail of the passing world; every fact about the hall of the stairs and the street beyond.  The next day I would go out to look for things I had noticed, for the first time, the night before.  And I found them, too.  Or thought I had.
For an interview that I later conducted with Anne Enright, please click here.


Wendy said...

I am eager to read this book - especially after reading your thoughts on it. I read The Gathering and was simply blown away by Enright's brilliance and her fresh language. She takes difficult subjects and just drags the reader into the lives of her characters. It is not always comfortable, but it is unforgettable.

Lilian Nattel said...

She has captured that age exactly.

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