Economic And Social Change in The Forgotten Waltz

Throughout the novel, The Forgotten Waltz, we see the role of social and economic change having a large impact on all the characters in the story, but primarily Gina, our narrator. Gina’s life moves in tandem with the economic status in Ireland; when the boom is happening everything is great, but by the end of the celtic tiger, her life has completely collapsed also. Alongside this, there is social change going on to try and keep pace with the fact that the celtic tiger is completely collapsing. People begin to try and live within their means again, and this also has a huge effect on many of our characters, as they are used to extravagant lives that they have to adjust to living without.

We first begin to notice the correlation between Gina’s life and the economic status of Ireland when she herself draws our attention to it. She comments on how her and her then boyfriend Connor are sitting on the floor of their new house, while it goes up seventy-five euros a day. I think that this is a clever correlation for Enright to suggest so soon, as in hindsight we realise that this was Enright letting us know that by the end of the story, in 2009, both the economy and Gina’s life will have collapsed. This is a very interesting thing to attach a character’s arc to. (especially given that throughout the novel Gina would like to have you believe that she is not materialistic in any way) We see her transformed from a woman who is settling down with her husband, impulsively taking out loans to do things, and being bought expensive gifts from her paramour, to a woman who is unable to sell her family home, has lost both her parents and is in the process of separating from her husband.

There is clear crossover in this story between the social and economic changes. As the boom happened, people began to view the hedonistic and reckless spending that went on as a feminine trait. When people complained about money, they complained primarily about the “Yummy Mummies” spending horrific amounts on plastic surgery and other unnecessary items. These women were blamed by the public after the collapse too, and Gina is one of these women. From her callously telling Séan that she hoped he kept a receipt for a Hermes scarf he got her as a gift, to her talking about how boring the men in the begging of the book were because of the pants that they were wearing, we see how vain and shallow Gina is, despite how she clearly feels that she is above all of that. This use of Gina as one of those “D4 girls” helps to deepen her character’s connect to the economic status in Ireland, as well as the social view of that type of women. She is portrayed as selfish intentionally, with her not even noticing her mother was sick, just before the collapse, when the boom was at it’s peak. Then the economy and her life collapse. She finds out her mum is dead, and ends up having to live in her childhood home with 1970’s central heating, the man she was having an affair with, and occasionally his daughter. By the end of the novel, we see Gina being confronted with this reality. Throughout the collapse, everyone found someone else or something else to blame, and Gina does this too metaphorically, trying to blame the collapse of Séan’s family on the fact he would have cheated with anyone. It isn’t until she gets told by Evie in the last line that it could have been anyone else, but “it wasn’t anyone, it was [Gina]” that it even becomes possible for Gina to acknowledge she was in the wrong, however we will never know if she actually does this even it is the last line of the novel.

Originally I struggled with this novel. I thought it was boring, and I couldn’t really connect to the character. It wasn’t until the second time I read it that I began to see Gina as less of a character and more of a representation of the type of person that would have behaved like that during the Celtic tiger. Gina is a caricature of the shallow women in the boom, with Enright intentionally amplifying her most negative traits, like her lack of guilt over cheating on her husband, or her lack of remorse for tearing apart a family. It is supposed to be a social commentary on the people during the boom, and I think that this is why Enright tied her character arc to the boom. For the novel to make sense, Gina did have to have her comeuppance in the end.

She couldn’t just get to sell her mum’s house and live happily ever after with Séan. In fact, I’m not entirely sure we’re supposed to like Gina. I think that we are supposed to realise this connect between her and the mistakes that we as a nation made during the celtic tiger, with the reckless spending and hedonistic values. It is an artist’s job to hold a mirror up to society, and I think that Anne Enright does that wonderfully in this novel, holding up a mirror to Ireland during that period of time via Gina.

13 January 2020
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