Thursday, March 29, 2012

book review: The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright

The backstory: The Forgotten Waltz is on the 2012 Orange Prize longlist.

The basics: Gina recounts both how she fell in love with her ex-husband and how she came to cheat on him with her current husband.

My thoughts: This novel was my first experience with Anne Enright, and her writing enraptured me from the beginning. She has a way with observational detail I adored:
"I end up talking to a woman who is sitting beside a plate of chocolate Rice Krispie cakes and working her way through them in a forgetful sort of way. They have mini-marshmallows on top. She goes to pop one in her mouth, then she pulls back in surprise. 'Ooh, pink!' she says."
In such an observational novel, it's difficult to separate Enright's writing from Gina's observation, and I loved both. For the first half of this novel, I was utterly enthralled and bemoaned never having read Enright before. As the novel progressed, however, my adoration became more measured. Gina skillfully articulates her foibles in love, and I enjoyed her perspective and humor. I couldn't help but think, though, that neither man was anywhere near worthy of her. I couldn't understand what led her to marry Conor, and I couldn't fathom why she cheated, even in an unhappy marriage. Neither man came across as particularly charming, intelligent or passionate. I was moved enough by Enright's writing to believe their unlikability was intentional:
"If love was a kind of knowledge then he could not love me, because he hadn't the faintest clue."
Despite my lack of adoration for the men, there were still passages that made me want to believe in one of these troubled relationships:
"You can never catch the moment when it happens, but it always does: that split second when awkwardness flowers into intimacy." 
This novel is filled with adultery and its impact on spouses, siblings, and children. The star of this novel, however, is Enright's writing and perhaps her exploration of theme.

Favorite passage: "I feel that the world might be better it it was run by girls who are nearly twelve, the ability they have to be fully moral and fully venal at the same time."

The verdict: As a story of Gina, I adored it. As a novel, however, the male characters didn't come through for me, and I wished for one of them to shine. Regardless, Enright's writing is top notch, and this slim novel is worth reading.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 244 pages
Publication date: September 26, 2011
Source: publisher via Edelweiss

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Forgotten Waltz from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

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12 comments:

  1. It sounds as though we agreed on this one. I love Enright's writing, but I also only awarded this 4/5. It needed something else to really bring it to life. I hadn't thought about it being a problem with the male characters, but I think that would help. What it really needed was something thought provoking. It was a lovely story, but it needs to do more than that to really shine.

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    1. I agree, Jackie. I was surprised it didn't really go anyplace. I expected something more from it to shine as brightly as her writing.

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  2. I do want to read this one. Like you the descriptive writing really appeals to me. Didn't realize it was available on Edelweiss.

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    1. I confess to having it from Edelweiss since before it was published last fall. I've been meaning to read it since then, but the Orange Prize finally gave me the impetus!

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  3. Hmm, I may have to give this one a shot. I wasn't a huge fan of The Gathering when I read it years ago, but maybe I'll enjoy her latest one more. I've found myself loving novels with descriptive writing lately.

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    1. Her writing is lovely. I'm eager to read more of her work, including The Gathering.

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  4. I like observational novels. I didn't know this one was available via Edelweiss either. I just downloaded my first book from there recently as I've been a heavy Net Galley user.

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    1. I seem to have better luck with Edelweiss than NetGalley, but I've had this one on my Kindle since last fall.

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  5. I am not sure about this one, as infidelity is something that really bugs me when I read too much about it. I guess it's a pet peeve, but from the way you've described this to me the main female narrator sounds intriguing enough to pick this one up. Fantastic review today!

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    1. I don't have an aversion to infidelity tales, but I realized when I don't have respect or understanding for the marriage at the heart of the novel, I wasn't bothered by its demise. It seemed inevitable, which is perhaps the larger point. It wasn't (I think) that she had a better connection to Sean; it was simply that he was there, and she wasn't invested her marriage.

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  6. I read a few pages last week and stopped. I didn't like 'Gathering' but am willing to give this a try after the positive review. Thanks!

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  7. Shocker! I liked this one a lot too. Great writing.

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!