3 stand-out 2011 novels by award-winning writers

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3. "The Forgotten Waltz," by Anne Enright

Gina Moynihan is in love. She tells us so, over and over, in Booker Prize winner Anne Enright's wry, wise new novel, The Forgotten Waltz. She has to be, otherwise the three submarined mortgages, two divorces, and one shattered kid would be for nothing.

In a world of no-fault divorce, adultery novels might have lost as much urgency as “the marriage plot,” but Enright knocks any dust right off with her perceptive tale that examines how the real estate bubble and Gina's life burst at the same time.

Enright sets her novel on a snowy day in Dublin in 2009, after the economic boom years of the Celtic Tiger had roared their last. “If you listened to the car radio, all the money in the country had just evaporated, you could almost see it, rising off the rooftops like steam,” Gina recalls.

Before, Gina was married to Conor, “a happening geek” who was kind and wanted kids. Gina, however, did the math and determined he was deluded. She worked in languages. (“Not the romance languages, unfortunately, I do the beer countries, not the wine.”) Then she met Seán Vallely, middle-aged consultant and father of Evie.

It was just supposed to be a clandestine affair. Only, as we know from the prologue, Gina's mother dies and they get caught.

Gina and Seán wind up in Gina's mother's old home, once worth £2 million “and a bit,” and now, in the new economy, apparently worthless. There, Gina bumps up against the edges of the dual roles she's been cast in as Evie's stepmother and Seán's emotional “savior.” “It was a delicate business, being the Not Wife,” she allows ruefully.

Enright is terrific on a sentence-by-sentence level, whether she's describing a New Year's brunch or the pet Seán buys for his daughter: “An orange fish, darting and stopping in its bright bubble of water. Happiness in a bag.”

Even more impressive is her feat with Gina, who bought wholesale into the materialism of the boom years. She believes that “nothing makes you jealous like something you didn't actually want in the first place,” and that “Everyone is selfish. They just call it something else.” Everything is seen from Gina's viewpoint, and yet Enright brings qualities – depth and compassion – its heroine not only doesn't possess but wouldn't know how to value.

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