Anne Enright doesn't believe in leading readers gently into anything — certainly not an affair. In The Forgotten Waltz, the Irish writer plunges us headlong into the world of Gina Moynihan, young IT consultant and adulterer at large.
Gina is not so much an unreliable narrator as someone obsessed with her own unreliability. Dissecting her love affair with married man Sean Vallely, she doubles back on her thoughts and memories, gamely trying to pinpoint the moment when her conventional, middle-class life — complete with husband and mortgage — dissolved into something darker and more complicated.
Her tone is often wry: "That all you have to do is sleep with somebody and get caught and you never have to see your in-laws again. Ever. Pffft! Gone. It's the nearest thing to magic I have yet found."
The real magic is in Enright's prose, which burrows into characters like fingernails into skin, peeling back the hidden layers of ordinary interactions. What another writer might string across a whole book, Enright burns up in a page, using it to create a jagged portrait of Dublin during the boom.
When the novel opens, the air is crackling with real-estate lust and Internet startups. Gina collides with Sean at a European conference, and they find themselves sleeping together with very little ceremony: "It seemed that choice had nothing to do with it, or that I had chosen a long time ago. Not him, necessarily, but this; waiting for the lift in sudden silence with a man who did not even bother to court me."
Details temper Gina's lover's tale — the fact that she is so busy with Sean that she doesn't notice her mother slipping from flakiness into illness, or that the economy is collapsing around them. There's also the nagging problem of Sean's young daughter, Evie. Though Gina revels in her own freedom, the little girl is a reminder that the affair has the power to derail several lives.
But there are no simple judgments in this darkly funny book, just a clear-eyed accounting of what was spent and lost. As Gina says, "Who would have thought love could be so expensive?"