Joy of Sex in Prurient and Decadent Celtic Tiger Era

From this weekend’s Irish Examiner, my review of Anne Enright’s novel The Forgotten Waltz:

The Forgotten Waltz 

Anne Enright

Vintage, €15.88

The quotes and blurbs adorning Anne Enright’s latest short novel make a lot of promises: they tell us this is a love story, a tender depiction of familial bonds, a tale of loss and hope, but in fact The Forgotten Waltz is only ever tangentially about these things. In reality, this is a novel about sex, a book in thrall to a powerful lust, the filth and the fun of it all, and the way the human animal is completely powerless before it.

Gina Moynihan, a snarky if otherwise unremarkable Dublin thirty-something, begins an affair during the boom years of the Celtic Tiger. Her story is one of ‘hotel assignations’ and ‘little surges of irritation’ but also one of guiltless recollection and honest banality.  There are no epiphanic choirs here; her relationship with married management consultant Seán Vallely is what it is and damn the consequences. After all, ‘such things happen’ in 21st Century Ireland.

Gifted by Enright with a conversational voice, Gina’s potentially unreliable narration makes The Forgotten Waltz a quick and easy read. ‘I might be getting things in the wrong order here,’ she tells the reader, though her vicious dismissal of gossips and in-laws is so amusing, and her dedication to going ‘at it like knives’ is such a consistent part of her identity, that it is hard to care if she lies or not. We want to believe Gina because Enright crafts her to the point of hyper-realism.

By contrast, there is some cheap characterisation on display with regard to the male protagonists. ‘Reared to be obnoxious,’ it is difficult not to see the novel’s grey-eyed, finely tailored Mr Big as something of a cliché, a refugee from the set of Sex and the City breezing into Terenure via Enniskerry. Yet even this emotionally closed-off older man is a more rounded figure than Gina’s husband, the IT engineer Conor. Enright plays to the gallery a little in her depiction of the cuckold, and the narrator’s frustration with her husband’s love of gadgets is one of the few moments where the woman behind the curtain betrays herself.

Lucky for the reader then that Conor is thrown aside by Gina pretty much immediately. Seán Valley is her obsession and, when emotion inevitably taints their physical affair, Enright perfectly captures the sublime indulgence of falling in love with someone who is spoken for.

This ‘stolen love’ lends itself to great moments, such as Gina’s discovery of sex while sober, a revelation so staggering to her that she couldn’t be anything but Irish. The milieu too is undeniably Dublin of the last 10 years. From yachts to vodka brunches, the novel stinks of the ‘culture of money’ now consigned to memory; a place where property is fetishised and champagne corks are popped at the slightest provocation.

Big on observational humour, Enright’s novel is a much more upbeat, much more enjoyable offering than 2007’s The Gathering. While it takes no big risks, The Forgotten Waltz distinguishes itself by attempting to answer a question which many find difficult to even ask: How many of us actually ended up with the people we wanted to be with?

This article originally published in The Irish Examiner, 14th April 2012, p.17.

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One Response to Joy of Sex in Prurient and Decadent Celtic Tiger Era

  1. Pingback: Long Time No See, Indeed: Healy’s First Novel in a Decade is Mesmerizing « illusory promise

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