Euphemia MacFarrigle and the Laughing Virgin (1995)

An uproariously funny satire on sexual and religious prejudices, Whyte’s debut novel deploys magical realism to make a series of fundamentally serious points.
Three virgin births are looming in a Glasgow convent while a farting virus wreaks devastation in the upper echelons of the Catholic hierarchy.
The Black Pope, head of the Jesuit order, is sent to investigate, while Euphemia MacFarrigle, armed with a handbag and a mission to transform the life of the convent superior, does her best to track down the teenage schoolboy she has been sent to rescue.
Meanwhile the Archbishop’s cook presides over the activities of a secret society of housewives bent on stamping out illicit sex in the diocese and the private detective set to track Euphemia gets far more than he bargained for.
The Archbishop’s Sermon Gets Under Way
It was at this point that a shrill whistling, only just perceptible at the limits of hearing, beame audible. Betty McGuigan, sitting in the nave close to the seventh station of the cross, reflected that it sounded like a pressure cooker working up to the moment when you have to turn the gas down, and looked around to see where it was coming from. A number of women in the congregation were doing the same.
The archbishop was describing the spiritual travails of St Ignatius that had let to the writing of his famous exercises. In order to bring home their importance to the boys, he compared them to various activities they might engage in on the sports firled. As far as he could judge, he was getting the message across, for the attention of the front rows was riveted on him.
He was leaning close to the microphone so that the sound of his own voice deafened him to the other noises he was producing. Intermittent as these were, they were perfectly clear to the first-, second- and third-year pupils. It was like someone opening an ancient unimaginably heavy wooden door on unoiled hinges, with a painful slowness which made the laborious and fascinatingly varied creaking that resulted more rather than less distracting.
Eddie McGlone had been chewing gum thoughtfully in time to the rise and fall of the archbishop’s intonation. He took the sticky ball from his mouth and carefully attached it to the back flap of the blazer of the boy in front of him, then looked quizzically at Frank Cullen, who was sitting next to him.
‘The old geezer’s farting,’ said Frank in his usual matter-of-fact way.
A medieval chronicler describing the scene would have said that the demon trapped in the poor cleric’s backside, unable to disrupt proceedings with the effects so far employed, now began to take its job seriously. From the noises that emerged, anyone would have thought that an irate trumpet, imprisoned in the windings of the archbishop’s colon, was desperately signalling its presence in the hope of being rescued.
Onset of a nightmare
Alan’s nightmare began between eleven and eleven thirty in the morning. A voice from deep inside him warned it would not end, but this did not stop him closing his eyes and pinching himself hard several times during the course of the day in a despairing effort to wake up. He had got off to an early start. He called in at his office in the BBC building and left a note for his producer before going to the Mitchell Library to do a bit of background research He was on his way to Maryhill to interview a youth worker (the woman Brenda remembered, the one who always insisted on saying grace) when he heard the noise.
His immediate reaction was to ignore it, as he would telltale creakings from the bodywork of his car, or a stain in the cornice above the window. Like them, it betokened a problem he preferred not to face up to until it became absolutely necessary.
It came again and then again. He pulled up on the far side of the railway bridge beyond the library on Maryhill Road. Against his will, because he wanted to believe he was imagining things, he looked over his shoulder at the back seat. A small baby was lying there. The white knitted shawl it was wrapped in had fallen open to reveal the nappy in a plastic casing. The nappy must have been sodden because a tiny trickle of urine was leaking out on to the dark suede fabric of the car’s upholstery. The baby’s immense eyes caught his gaze and held it. It smiled.
Euphemia Goes Back Where She Came From
For a while now Cissie had been conscious of strange noises coming from behind her ne, ne, ne, ne, . Her curiosity got the better of her and she broke off to look round. The postcards in Euphemia’s collection were coming unstuck and fluttering to the ground. As each one fell, the angels on it struggled to free themselves and took form in the air of the room. The movement of their wings ruffled the remaining cards, shaking them down more quickly. The angels grew alarmingly in size as they emerged. They might have been hurtling towards Cissie from the bottom of a deep, dark cone, or magnified by a zoom lens whose focus span round with unbelievable rapidity. Now she knew the smell of angel’s wings. It recalled at one moment orange blossoms in hot sun, at another almonds toasting gently beneath a grill. The soft plumes brushed her face and tickled her nostrils. She let go of the book and covered her eyes with her hands, so blinding was the brightness that emanated from them.
On that same trip to Italy she and Rob had spent several nights in a hilltop village. Their room gave on to the square at the summit of the hill. Every evening before sunset, swallows and swifts took part in a frantic race, swirling round beneath the eaves at headlong speed, driven by the sheer rushing exultation of their flight. This was what the angels were now doing in Euphemia’s sitting-room. The circular movement grew faster and faster. Cissie took her hands away and saw that a space had cleared. The angels were rising far from her, getting smaller and smaller, and in their centre, lifted ever higher, soared the body of her friend. At last all she could see were her feet, like tiny pinpricks, as the chorus of angel voices faded, murmuring: ‘Euphemia! Euphemia!’
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‘Endearing and very funny. I take Christopher Whyte to be a serious writer, seriously funny.’
– Faye Weldon, Mail on Sunday

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