Mary Lavelle


One of my favourite books growing up, though I find O’Brien’s writing far more mannered than I used to.

I think it was the cover image as much as anything else that made me choose this book off the shelves at the library. It’s Miss Ffrench Mullan by Cecil Salkeld, who did some spectacularly unsettling pictures that to my mind echo the unveiling of the unconscious by the Surrealists. Here are Leda and the Swan and Mother and Child:



Leda is from; Mother and Child from

You can see why Salkeld was such a good fit for O’Brien’s writing, which often explores women’s pain, but is also of the same era. The image chosen by Virago for ‘Mary Lavelle’ is even better, as it could portray either Juanito’s wife Luisa, or Mary’s own dress on first meeting her:

Luisa was a fair-haired Castilian. Her eyes were green-gold and her skin had a gold bloom on its pallor. She was slender, and wore a dress of a dead gold colour…But Greek, however unsuspecting and untried, usually knows Greek.

Danger and frivolity

The weather now became hot and sultry, holiday, seaside weather. But this was 1939, and men’s thoughts were not of relaxation but of death, not of bathing-suits but of uniforms, not of dance music but of trumpets…

Nancy Mitford in The Pursuit of Love, showing what a good writer she is. Stefan Zweig also comments in The World of Yesterday how glorious the weather was in August 1939. Of course it’s there in the Cazalet Chronicles too.


On a different note, do you ever see a painting or photo that reminds you of a character in a book? There’s something about the colour combination in this bikini by Kini, and the slightly Dali-esque ruffled cups, that makes me think of the Surrealists and of Linda Radlett, although as she tells Fabrice, she doesn’t really like swimming as much as sunbathing naked on holiday.

Image via A Little Bird’s article on Kini.



An artist who was new to me, but who was served up from the deep of the algorithims by the delight that is Instagram.

This is ‘Girl with a Pot of Roses’ and the image is via Pinterest.

Woman in blue

Alesso_Baldovinetti_lady in a yellow dress.jpg

A long-term favourite, with something in the face that reminds me of my friend Charissa.

A copy of this was in another friend’s room at uni, along with reproductions of Renaissance frescoes. The whole effect, especially when Merton Bells came ringing in, was of being in a cool yet welcoming cloister.

Alesso Baldonivetti – image via Wikimedia