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Anne Enright: The Wig My Father Wore

Grace (née Grainne, she changed her name because she was always called Groin at school) works on an Irish TV show, called The Love Quiz, a sort of Dating Game. The show and the team that produce it are one of the most important things in her life. She once had an affair with Marcus, one of her fellow workers but that is long since over. The show now seems under threat, despite its success. Also important in her life are her parents. When she was five, her father bought a wig, as he was almost bald, and everyone pretended not to notice. Her mother has kept pride of place for the three pictures she has of her pre-wig husband, including their wedding picture. Now, however, her father has had a stroke and only speaks incoherently, using the wrong words and having a dialogue with the television. However, Grace’s memories of her father seem to revolve around the famous wig.

Last and definitely not least is Stephen. Stephen is an angel. He killed himself in 1934 and is now an angel, working his way up the heavenly ladder. He just turns up in Grace’s life and moves in with her. They sleep in the same bed, though do not have sex till late in the book and then in a not entirely conventional manner. Stephen helps Grace’s mother and others with their bets on horse races (he knows the results in advance), hangs himself in Grace’s shower when he is miserable, never masters the toaster, makes her nipples and pubic hair disappear and, finally, appears on The Love Quiz, though is not very successful, except that he causes all the cameras to behave in an abnormal manner.

What this plot summary does not convey is how funny this book is. Quite apart from the rejection of the standard Irish Catholic values (The Love Quiz team is fairly sure that none of the contestants they have ever had was a virgin), Enright pokes fun at sex, TV, family life, men, religion and bosses (hers is nicknamed the Love Wagon and we only find out by chance that she is really called Gillian), to name but a few and she does it such a gentle way that none of it seems vicious though it often is. Stephen the Angel could, of course, be silly. There have been plenty of films, books and TV shows with angels to make one sick of them but, though he has wings, is immortal and seems to have some magic powers (foretelling the results of horse races), Stephen is certainly not mawkish and Enright uses him brilliantly to make her points, particularly about sex but also about modern conveniences (the toaster!), the game show and TV in general. We can only look forward to more books by Enright.

Publishing history

First published 1995 by Jonathan Cape