The novel was inspired by a story told to him by his mother of an old relative – "We were driving through Sligo, and my mother pointed out a hut and told me that was where my great uncle's first wife had lived before being put into a lunatic asylum by the family. She knew nothing more, except that she was beautiful. I once heard my grandfather say that she was no good. That's what survives and the rumours of her beauty. She was nameless, fateless, unknown. I felt I was almost duty-bound as a novelist to reclaim her and, indeed, remake her."  The story also ties in with previous novels by Barry, especially The Whereabouts of Eneas Mcnulty, the title character being a brother in law to Roseanne McNulty.
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