Original date of publication: 1936
My edition: 1985 (Virago Modern Classics)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: LTER member, September 2010
Kate O’Brien is a perfect example of why I continue to read an author’s books, even if I didn’t like the first book I read by them. I didn’t like The Ante-Room, Kate O’Brien’s novel about a woman in 1880s Ireland who is in love with her sister’s husband; but I had much more success with Mary Lavelle, a novel that is far more romantic in tone.
The Ante-Room and Mary Lavelle share a common theme: forbidden love. In this book, a young Irish woman leaves her fiancée at home and goes to Spain, where she becomes an English teacher to the three daughters of a wealthy family. Things become a lot more complicated when Mary meets Juanito, the girls’ older brother. The action of the novel takes place in various parts of Spain; the country itself even becomes a character. Kate O’Brien is a master of describing, and I loved the way that she described the places that Mary visits. There’s a very dreamy, last feel to this book, almost as if you can feel the heat of the Spanish summer that O’Brien describes.
As I’ve said before, this book is very romantic in tone, and that may have contributed to why I enjoyed this book so much. There’s not quite the same amount of melodrama that The Ante-Room has, not so much self-sacrifice on the part of the main character. In that way, Mary Lavelle is a much softer character, much more sympathetic and human. You almost feel sorry for the situation she fiends herself in because it’s not something that she can totally control.