The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright | A Fictional Affair

When I spotted The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright at a book sale recently, it reminded me that I had been meaning to read more of her work. So, I bought the book and settled down to read just under 230 pages about a fictional affair.

The Forgotten Waltz is a curious novel. The story is told from the point of view of Gina Moynihan. Married to Conor, Gina works full time and is middle class. Apart from the spare facts, and that she has a sister, Fiona, and an elderly mother, Gina is a rather vague and shallow character. I wouldn’t say I didn’t like her, but I can’t say that I did. Her saving grace, perhaps, is that she doesn’t seem to like herself much either.

For a novel that is about an affair, the affair itself also seems shallow. Gina tries to convince herself otherwise but there’s somehow a lack of connection between her  and her paramour Sean Vallely.

How were we supposed to stop?

Gina muses at one point, “once we had begun, how were we supposed to stop? This sounds like a simple question, but I still don’t know the answer to it. I mean we had started something that could not be ended, except by happening.”

Perhaps the shallowness is the point, since these are characters of Ireland’s economic boom. The trouble is that their vagueness leaves them struggling to get the reader rooting for them. What saves the day, is neither character nor plot, but the quality of Enright’s writing which, of itself, would encourage me to read her again.

Enright won the Man Booker Prize in 2007 for The Gathering and has since published The Forgotten Waltz (2011) and The Green Road (2015).

Aloysius Tempo

Jason Johnson’s thriller Aloysius Tempo is about an Irish-born freelance assassin living in Amsterdam.  Tempo advertises his “hard solve” services on the dark web. He specialises in arranging “accidents” and the murders he commits are untraceable.

“The law needs a murder before a motive,” is his philosophy.  He “cuts the truth in half, into quarters, slides it all away to places where it ’s too expensive, too pointless to look.”

Tempo is a scary character.

It took me a while to relax enough in his company to be able to enjoy the story. He is a careful operator and his clients are more than satisfied with his services. All his online reviews are five-star.

Imelda Feather is a patriotic civil servant working close to the Irish government. She appears to know a lot about Tempo.  She is working on a “PR” assignment linked to Ireland’s 1916 centenary celebrations. But this is not public relations as we usually understand that dark art. What she has in mind is the cold, ruthless assassination of four of Ireland’s most despised citizens. She wants to recruit Tempo because he “barely exists” and his moral code is “haywire”.

As Tempo sets to work, he becomes involved in a dangerous game of international espionage where he is both hunted and hunter.

Aloysius Tempo is a gritty and gripping thriller and at just over 253 pages it’s a fast read.

Jason Johnson’s earlier works are Woundlicker (2005), Alina (2006) and Sinker (2014. Aloysius Tempo is published by Liberties Press.

[Disclosure: An ARC was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review].

If you like Aloysius Tempo by Jason Johnson you might also like Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent.

Nora Webster – A Quiet and Profound Novel by Colm Toibin

Nora Webster, Colm Tóibín’s seventh novel is set in the 1960s and early 1970s. The location will be familiar to Tóibín readers. It is his native County Wexford in seaside villages Ballyconniger, Blackwater, Curracloe and nearby towns of Enniscorthy and Bunclody. These places are beautifully present on the page as the backdrop for an intensely focused study of character and grief.

Wexford is famous for its international opera festival and music plays an important role in Nora Webster. References to civil unrest in Northern Ireland and the political differences between Taoiseach Jack Lynch and Minister for Finance Charles Haughey will have particular resonance for Irish readers familiar with this period.

As always, Tóibín writes with tremendous authenticity about ordinary people. He has the gift of making the ordinary seem profound.

The novel opens with Tóibín’s heroine, Nora Webster struggling to come to terms with the loss of her husband.  Well-meaning neighbours from their small, tightly-knit community offer sympathy. They call to her house each evening and to talk and share stories about her late husband. But Nora realises that the past cannot be rescued from their memories.

She faces the practical difficulties of trying to keep her home together while she finds a way to live without the anchor of her husband.

Nora longs for the questions and the sympathy to cease. She finds it hard to respond to those who offer their sympathy looking into her eyes and waiting for her reaction.

Intense grief

So intense and personal is her grief, that Nora is emotionally neglectful of her children and surprisingly blind to their loss — particularly that of her sons Conor and Donal who are clearly struggling— and yet she is capable of tremendous understanding and empathy and fearlessly stands up for them when she is put to the test.

Tóibín shows empathy for his heroine but is also unsentimental. When she takes up singing Nora unlocks a gift she inherited from her late mother. Through her singing, she Nora she finds solace and a route to independence. So, her recovery comes not from the sympathies of friends and neighbours but from her inner resources.

Character and place take precedence over plot in Nora Webster.  This is a quiet, atmospheric novel that in my opinion represents Tóibín at his best.

[Disclosure: I received an Advance Review Copy of Nora Webster from the publisher via Netgalley]

See also Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin.