Book Review: The Forgotten Waltz, Anne Enright

ImageAnne Enright is a novelist of such skill she can turn the mundane, everyday domestic into something sad, powerful and beautiful.

The Forgotten Waltz follows the aftermath of an affair, told through the eyes of Gina Moynihan, an unremarkable thirty-something Dubliner who works as something in marketing.

In essence, it’s a simple story. Infidelity is a well-worn subject, but in Enright’s hands it becomes a dramatic, fascinating study of human fragility, greed, desire and love, in all its forms.

The story begins at the end. We find Gina waiting in her mum’s draughty former house to pick up her lover’s 12-year-old daughter from the bus stop. As the snow falls, she contemplates the path her life has taken – how did she find herself waiting for a man she barely knew a year ago’s child? Gina’s thoughts then drift to her first encounter with Seán Vallely a simple glance that couldn’t have foretold what was to come. It’s not love at first sight, nor the passionate Darcy-Elizabeth hate, he was simply, “The stranger I sleep besides now”.

The love affair between Gina and the man she eventually leaves her husband for isn’t the passionate, but doomed tale of Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina. It’s unsexy snatched encounters in bland airport hotel rooms, drunken fumbles at work conventions, all the while accompanied, not by a beating heart, but with a gnawing sadness, waves of guilt and a nagging feeling that the new life she’s started is as static, as undramatic, as her old one.

In a world where we’re still encouraged to believe that we will one day meet our soul mate’s eyes across a crowded room and live happily ever after, Enright writes about love, or perhaps more accurately, relationships, with a delft and accurate hand. There are no thunderbolts; Gina soon realises the man she’s left and the man she now lives with are interchangeable – even if one is better at housework.

The characters are all so wonderfully drawn. We’re never told what they’re explicitly like, but the picture Enright builds allows us to get to know them better than a thousand adjectives would. Gina is so whole and human I felt like I knew her; she’s flawed – often stupid, sometimes kind, envious, scornful of her sister’s Sunday supplement lifestyle, overly concerned with appearances and short on self-awareness.

Enright is a truly captivating writer, with a wonderful knack of saying something perfectly that I’ve only been able to half articulate before. From the description of her ‘pretty girl’ sister, to Gina’s, almost unconscious, musings on the love of her life, tinged as it is, with uneasiness.

There’s no resolution, Gina isn’t condemned and shunned for being a “fallen woman”, she’s just consigned to the ordinary life of a suburban Dubliner with a past and a future she has yet to reconcile. If only life could be as beautiful as Enright’s writing.

Suzanne Elliott

Book Review: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

ImageNot for the first time, I found myself unconsciously reading two books with very similar themes, characters and bombshell endings back-to-back.

The last time it happened, when I read The Sea by John Banville and Orwell’s Keep The Aspidistra Flying in tandem, both plots followed middle-aged men looking back on their lives, trying to come to terms with the past. And the hooks of both Sense of an Ending and The Go-Between, the book I read immediately after? Yes, two late middle-aged men looking back at their lives and…

Barnes’ Booker Prize winning novel is a slip of a book that deals with big ideas. It was one of those novels that the clichéd, and clumsy, ‘unputadownable’ was first uttered for. I devoured it in a day only to be left… I don’t really know how I felt as I closed it for the final time. There is little sense of the ending, or, if you think about it too much as I did, sense in the ending. Was I disappointed? Surprised? Confused? I didn’t, don’t, know.

But it was certainly a gripping read, beautiful realised by Barnes, a writer I’ve always found too cold and studied for my liking. The story is told through the eyes of the now late-middle aged Tony who’s being forced to dig out pockets of memory from the furthest reaches of his mind after he becomes the unlikely recipient of a legacy from his ex-girlfriend, Veronica’s, mum that includes the diary of a school friend who committed suicide that Veronica is refusing to hand over. Tony becomes obsessed with retrieving what is legally his, and his hunt unearths some dark and dangerous secrets and long forgotten memories.

The Sense of an Ending flits in-between now and the 1960s when we’re introduced to Tony and his group of pseudo-intellectual schoolboys, amongst them the super-serious Adrian Finn.

Tony is that well used literary device, the unreliable narrator. We naturally see the events unfolding through his eyes, both literally and metaphorically. But Barnes gives us enough outside insights – the odd knowing comment from Tony’s ex wife; a letter he sent to Veronica and her then boyfriend – Tony’s former good friend Adrian – to learn more than Tony allows us.

The story bounces along, told in Tony’s jarringly upbeat voice, but there’s a sinister undertone that runs through what is an ultimately a rather depressing and sad tale. I found Tony unnerving in his emotional detached, he seemed so distant from his actions and unaware of the damage could do to others with his emotional flippancy and, despite his slight character, he was all too real.

The ending continues to haunt me weeks after finishing it. There are so many unanswered questions. I’m not even really sure what I think happened, happened. As enthralling and thrilling as this book was, I was left slightly frustrated; it’s nagged at me almost as much as Tony’s desire for that diary.