Thursday, 4 March 2010

Mary Lavelle (O'Brien) 139

What a wonderful novelist Kate O'Brien is - I had quite forgotten her talents until Mary Lavelle arrived in my consignment of VMCs from Fleur Fisher last month.

Mary Lavelle is the story of Mary (as an aside, how many VMCs have Mary as their main protagonist and in the title - I must have come across at least four already), an Irish 19 year old who goes to Spain to be a "Miss" to three teenage girls. (A miss is a sort of chaperone, responsible for looking after the girls between lessons, speaking English with them, and going out with them). In essence, this is a coming of age story, as the rather naieve Mary escapes her rather predictable life, living with her father, and waiting for her fiance to earn enough money for them to get married, to discover a rather different world on the continent. She takes huge delight in discovering Spain and Spanish life:
"Her imagination was engaged by the scenes and people about her. She walked among holiday crowds and out through the fishing hamlets that edged the bay; sat in squares at dusk to watch boys and girls dancing; explored the slums of Altorno and poked about dark churches...her imagination was engaged, as it would have been by any accidental escape from the accepted pattern of life as she knew it, but as that pattern was simple and northern and she young and untravelled, all these details of a strange people's routine impelled her to a confused, uneven excitement"
(Isn't that passage wonderful?)
The book takes on a different tone when the girls' older, married brother Juanita arrives on the scene, further challenging Mary's beliefs and ideas.

This book has also been filmed as "Talk of angels" and I'd be quite interested to see that, but it's currently only available as a region1 import :(

This book has been published four times by Virago, but I can't find a scan of the edition that I have (the green with italicised writing sort!). 4*

I've read quite a number of the other O'Brien VMCs, so will do a catch-up post on those tomorrow...


  1. Hmmm, interesting. I like the picture on the front of the oldest version - more modern that a lot of the illustrations that VMC of that era use.

    Lovely post Verity,


  2. Ooh I have a few O'Brien's on my TBR - I can't wait to get started now!

  3. I loved this VMC too! It took a while to get used to the writing style but I soon realised how marvelously written it was. I loved her description of a bull fight.

  4. Hannah - it is quite modern isn't it - I think I prefer the middle cover.

    Rachel - go and read them! She is definitely not to be missed. Which ones do you have?

    Mrs B - it was absolutely marvellous writing. I can't wait to read more of her books now.