In Chicago recently on tour for her new novel, "The Forgotten Waltz," Anne Enright seemed keener on the street scene than touting her book. From the perspective of the Whiskey Bar & Grill outdoor cafe on Rush Street, we saw an abundance of shopping bags from Barneys, Hermes and
. Also abundant were well-groomed, purebred canines strolling with their owners, who were talking on cellphones.
As we talked over free refills of coffee and cola, our conversation was punctuated by a bit of ogling of boulevardiers with particularly unusual piercings, bad hairpieces and fabulous shoes.
Conversation segued from the street scene to footwear and was demonstrative of the unflagging curiosity and keen powers of observation that infuse Enright's fiction. "The Forgotten Waltz" is so darkly funny, and laser sharp, that it is possible to read it solely as a well-written adultery novel, an infidelity showstopper. The novel is narrated by Gina, a 30-something woman in
who works, albeit vaguely, in IT (information technology), recalling her affair with the man for whom she left her quite pleasant, if dull, husband. The novel opens in February 2009, in the aftermath of the Irish economic boom, on a gray, wintry day.
But Enright is too interesting a writer to offer up merely an exquisitely written adultery drama. In the book she makes a profoundly insightful connection between adultery and overspending and borrowing. Not only do both enterprises promise emancipation from reality and require extraordinary denial skills to continue, they require a self-involvement.
"Adultery is a great subject for a country in transition because it is about old values being overthrown, and people have to make their own personal morality, because the old moral authorities are irrelevant or dead," Enright explains.
A fierce writer, Enright is also wry and candid, so the novel never stumbles on its own weight of moral righteousness. The chapter headings are named for slightly melodramatic songs such as "Stop! In the Name of Love." And Enright brilliantly jokes throughout the novel in a way that's not snarky as, for instance, Gina muses, "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 Gathering," Enright's previous novel, about a suicide and the family members who assemble at the funeral, won the Man Booker Prize in 2007. After the celebrations and public appearances on the novel's behalf, Enright was eager to get back to her desk at home, where she lives with her husband and two children, 11 and 8, not far from Dublin, in a town near the sea. She began writing, and wrote the novel pretty much straight through as it appears now, over the course of a year and 10 months.
Enright worried a bit that Ireland's financial status would work itself out before she finished writing, but that didn't happen. The idea for "The Forgotten Waltz" emerged as Enright traveled around talking about "The Gathering," quite a sad book. The Celtic Tiger was still roaring at that point, and Enright recalls that some of the reaction after the Booker was, "Why are you drudging all of that sad stuff up? We got clear, so get with the program and buy more shoes."
As the sun shifted, and the afternoon passed, the sidewalks continued to fill with shoppers laden with bags. As much as people seem to want to spend money, it seems absent from most conversations.
"I like putting money in books because I think we think about it a lot, and talk about it very little," says Enright. "It's an interior conversation, and quite taboo to talk about. You would never ask someone what they earned, ever."
With that, we paid for the endless beverage refills and went on our way.
'The Forgotten Waltz'
By Anne Enright