Instead of my usual reading list, I’m going to do something a bit different this time around.
(I did read more than this one book this month, I promise. If you’re interested, I recommend you head over to Goodreads.)
I haven’t exactly been quiet when it comes to my opinions on award-nominated fiction, specifically literary fiction. As much as I’ve enjoyed reading the likes of Allende, Ishiguro, and a host of others, a lot of it can be boring and pretentious. Yet somehow I found myself reading Anne Enright’s The Forgotten Waltz this month.
I’d put it on hold at the library after having read the inside cover flap, and completely forgot she was the culprit behind 2007 Man Booker Prize winner The Gathering. I hated that book. I read the entire thing and after I was done, I was like, seriously? That’s what award winning fiction looks like?
By the time I’d made the connection between Waltz and Gathering, the book was already home and on my coffee table, waiting to be read. The premise still interested me, and it was short, so I figured, what the hell? I’ll give it a shot.
Let me tell ya, I’m glad I did.
The Forgotten Waltz is the story of an affair between two people and just what it does to them and everyone around them. It doesn’t break any new ground; affairs, even if they don’t end badly, rarely turn out all hearts and flowers. We see what Gina and Sean do to each other, and their families, by their selfish actions.
It doesn’t start out emotional. They meet, fuck, and go home. That’s it. Somehow, over time, even though they both swear to stop meeting, they begin to talk, and Gina falls in love with him. Or she convinces herself she has. It’s never really clear if she is or isn’t, if Sean returns her feelings, if his daughter Evie holds her responsible for breaking up her family or if she’s sort of…blase about the whole business.
Enright’s style is to write run on sentences, occasionally peppered with hyphens or semicolons, and surprisingly, it’s not annoying. Instead, it has a lilt to it, much like you’d expect of an Irishman telling you a story in the pub some nasty winter afternoon.
And that’s really what this is. It’s a meandering tale, one you have a vague notion of how it will end, and it shifts and winds its way through Gina and Sean’s first assignation to the day Sean gets stuck in Budapest and needs Gina to pick up his daughter. A step for them, considering he’s never asked her to do anything like this before, afraid of hurting Evie’s delicate sensibilities.
Gina isn’t a likable woman. There’s too much about her that grates. She whines. She drinks too much. She’s like that one friend you have that you don’t particularly care for but hang out with her anyway, and you can’t really figure out why. But there’s something identifiable about this woman (even if you don’t hang out with adulterers). You might not like her very much, but you don’t dislike her.
Ultimately, the resolution to the story is nebulous. The reader is left with the impression that things are sort of stable, but not really, that one little thing could trip the balance and you don’t know when it will happen, or even if it will. It’s my favorite kind of ending, because it lets you write it for yourself. You get to decide what happens to Sean and Gina and Evie and all the other players in this sad little tale. And it makes me remember that not all snooty award winning fiction is so mind-numbingly boring.
The Forgotten Waltz has been nominated for the Orange Prize for Fiction. For a list of the other nominees, click here.