'The Forgotten Waltz: a beautifully detailed tale of lovers weaving a triangular web

Book review: 'The Forgotten Waltz,' by Anne Enright. Norton, $25.95.

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The contracts signed, the young couple sat on the floor of their new townhouse in a Dublin suburb and listened to the money. It was 2002, and Ireland was booming. The place would increase in value 75 euros a day, they told themselves, although that seemed a paltry sum with the house newly bought and mortgaged for 300,000 euros.

"Still, you could almost feel it, a pushing in the walls; the toaster would pop out fivers, the wood of the new-laid floors would squeeze out paper money and start to flower.

"And for some reason, we were terrified."

"The Forgotten Waltz," by Irish writer Anne Enright, is a novel about best-laid plans gone awry. The house that doesn't appreciate. The marriage that doesn't last. The career that doesn't develop. The affair that fails to reach an intimacy deep enough to replace the marriage.

At the center of this story of weariness and discontent is Gina Moynihan, a young woman living in the Dublin suburb of Terenure.

Gina is checking off the list of things you check off in young adulthood. She has a good job and is moving up the career ladder. She travels, and when we meet her she has just returned from Australia. She has been dating Conor, a short, burly man with a master's in multimedia, and together they buy the aforementioned house. They take out a few car loans and use the money to get married.

Life together begins and continues, until it is interrupted and thrown off its trajectory by Sean Vallely, a married man with a young daughter.

The affair begins at a conference in a hotel in Switzerland. Gina is there to speak about international Internet strategy, and Sean is there to present on "the culture of money."

It winds its way through other hotel rooms, into Sean's house, then into Gina's childhood home after her mother dies and leaves her two daughters with a house that will not sell. Gina jumps from one intractable situation -- a floundering marriage with a man who wants a baby in a house with a mortgage growing ever heavier -- into a second one.

Sean has a complicated marriage with his wife, Aileen. "You have no idea," he tells Gina, by way of explanation. And his daughter, Evie, has emotional and medical needs he cannot ignore as easily as he can his wife or, later, Gina.

In "The Forgotten Waltz," Ms. Enright -- whose novel "The Gathering" won the 2007 Man Booker prize -- has crafted a romance that is heartbreaking and torturous.

Gina walks away from a loving husband, a hard-won home, her family, eventually her job, all in pursuit of a man who can only ever put her second, if that.

Her sister, Fiona, tries to set Gina back on track, to no avail. A text message from Conor -- "Are we still married?" -- strikes a painful blow but doesn't reverse their failed love story. And Sean, who buys Gina clothes and perfume that are all wrong and who gives Gina all the credit but none of the reward for rescuing him from his wife, has hardly the appeal to disrupt a life's trajectory.

It would be an unpleasant dance if Ms. Enright had not created a narrator who acknowledges, with wit and candor, her failings.

"Anyway," Gina narrates at the start of the book. "Before our lives became a desolation of boredom, rage and betrayal, I loved Sean. I mean, Conor."

If her choices are not appealing, Gina, who describes her life in terms of what she is drinking (the "sauvignon blanc years"), is.

There are many who buy houses they cannot afford, have affairs they shouldn't with married men and risk the happiness and emotional well-being of children who are not theirs to risk.

Ms. Enright has written a passionate, beautifully detailed account of one of those women, who marches away from a life coming together toward one that will always be on the verge of falling apart.

Kaitlynn Riely is a Post-Gazette staff writer: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707.


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