Infidelity has gotten plenty of literary mileage over the years, but in the hands of Booker Prize-winning author Anne Enright, cheating isn't neatly compartmentalized as a wild love affair or a tragic mistake. The Forgotten Waltz is told mostly in flashbacks, as the narrator, Gina, reflects on the affair that resulted in both herself and her lover, Seán, leaving their marriages to move in together.
There's a cyclical hitch to Gina's memories of her time with Seán—she returns occasionally to the first moment she saw him, before they knew what they'd be to one another, before marriage vows were broken and homes were wrecked. But for all that, The Forgotten Waltz is a novel about passion, Enright's prose is even, frequently wry, as she describes the strange process by which an acquaintance becomes first a lover, and then even more than that.
Gina recounts her affair with a measured, often critical eye: The first time she sees Seán cry, she thinks, "He wept. And this was clearly something he had very little practice doing. Seán, the charmer, could not cry in a charming way. He cried like a mutant, all twisted and ingrown."
Gina's ability to step outside of herself, to report matter-of-factly on her decisions, both makes her a likeable narrator and allows Enright to pump the book full of understated, remarkable little observations. (A 12-year-old's room is "like something after the tide went out: dirty feathers, endless bits of cheap, non-specific plastic, and some that are quite expensive.") As Gina reflects on her decisions, with just a touch of sadness, it's with the new awareness that even after a dramatic, world-shaking recalibration, life is often messy and dissatisfying in all the same old ways.