The events of The Forgotten Waltz lead us down the trail toward Evie, the just-prepubescent daughter of philandering Seán, and she’s a quirky, uneven character to carry all that energy. And up until the last sections of the book, she doesn’t play a particularly prominent part in the story – she’s important, there’s just not a lot of text devoted to her. Forgotten Waltz is a surprising book, considered in the context of Ms. Enright’s Booker-winning The Gathering. It has none of the deep psychological strife, and abjures the artful burgeoning clarity of that masterpiece. But it is nevertheless a compelling read.
In The Forgotten Waltz we follow the thoughts and sometimes the emotions of Gina Moynihan, a Dubliner in her early 30s, who although married, pursues an affair with married Seán. Her inward dialogue rings too true: she kind of knows what she’s doing is reprehensible and costly, knows why she’s now caused alienation and sorrow in two families, but – she and Seán will try to make a go of it, at least for now. And slowly, the importance of Evie, Seán’s 14 year-old daughter, starts to grow. By the end of the book I thought of her as about to exercise the judgment of the world – will she survive and thrive while aligning herself with Gina, or will she turn her back and thereby take her Dad – and Gina’s happiness – away?
I’m convinced of this importance for the character by the open-ended way Ms. Enright leaves the issue – there is really no way to ascertain Evie’s state of mind from her statements. It gives us the opportunity not only to understand the critical nature of the issue for Gina, but also to speculate as to the outcome. But a fortiori it gives Gina’s and Seán’s misadventures the slight possibility of durability, of the certifying mark of longevity, and we don’t know if we want that for Gina. As a character, she engenders no sympathy, and this is perhaps Evie’s function. It could be that the youngster’s final judgment dooms Gina, and this is a highly persuasive, perhaps the most logical, reading.
I looked for parallels with the grand and magisterial The Gathering, and I did find them. We get the same crystal clear and true-to-life inward dialogue in the main character. Although the morality of the two characters from the two books is at least very divergent (if not diametrically opposed), we understand the series of machinations and rationalizations that Gina goes through, and this is a great accomplishment, make no mistake. Ms. Enright set out to portray a realistic progress of an adulterer, which by playing it perfectly straight, she achieves extremely well. By then placing her fate in the hands of a shaky and retrogressive teen, she leaves the end of the story open, and the reader is free to form her own conclusions.
This is a very balanced and honest conjuring. We enter the head of our anti-hero and see its none-too-pretty workings clearly, and this is the great success of Forgotten Waltz.