'It was a tough, wiry wig with plenty of personality. It rode around on his head like an animal. It was a vigorous brown. I was very fond of it as a child. I thought that it liked me back.'
Anne Enright's extraordinary first novel is narrated by Grace, a TV producer, whose life is transfigured when she answers the door to a fully-fledged angel. Stephen was a bridge-builder in Canada before he killed himself, but now that he has come to stay with Grace he spends the night hanging by the neck in her shower, to help himself think. Needless, to say, she falls in love, moving steadily from the spiritual to the anatomical. Meanwhile as her TV day job on the 'Love Quiz' begins to spiral out of control, on the other side of her life is her father, benign, bewigged and stricken by a stroke -apparently mad but probably the sanest person in her life. As the three worlds meet and merge in a forest of contradictions, we watch Grace take the pacific path from cynicism to innocence, as all around her the novel thinders to a conclusion.
Irish novelist Enright ("What Are You Like?", 2000) offers another unusual tale notable for both its lovely language and its mere suggestion of a plot. Up until the moment of Stephen's arrival, Grace leads a fairly conventional life. She has a steady job that she doesn't particularly like, siblings she doesn't get on with, a tiresome mother, and a father struck down by a stroke. Although the beautiful Stephen doesn't change any of those things, his mere presence is a miracle: he's an angel. He killed himself in 1934 and like all other suicides has been sent to earth to help those in need. Grace can't imagine why she was chosen, since her life is fine (or is it?), but with Stephen sleeping in her bed every night, she's not about to complain. Not that her repeated attempts at seduction bear any fruit: Stephen answers to a higher power than his angelic libido and takes up other tasks around the house, mainly painting everything white. He effects subtle differences in the lives of all he touches (a womanizing co-worker of Grace's suddenly falls in love with his own wife), but in Grace's more than anyone else's. She begins a journey through memory that brings her back to her father and the eponymous hairpiece. As a child she considered his toupee friendly, a sort of pet, but as she grew she realized the absurdity of the brown, poorly made piece of horsehair perched atop his head. After two strokes, Grace's father lingers in the front parlor speaking gibberish, making a reunion difficult. Yet her attempt is miracle enough, his lack of coherent speech hardly an obstacle. Enright's own language is wry and fluid, but the story itself is a shadowy thing: too much light, and it will disappear altogether. Not for all tastes, then, but those with a penchant for the delicate and subtle will relish it. (Kirkus Reviews)