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Mary Lavelle, a young and beautiful Irish woman, travels to Spain to work as a governess and see a little of life before returning to Mellick to marry her fiance, John. Despite the impressive surroundings and her three charming charges, she finds life as a governess to the Areavaga family lonely. But with the arrival of the family's brilliant but married son, Juanito, Mary finds her loyalties and beliefs challenged by his fiery politics and passion. With characteristic elegance and subtlety, Kate O'Brien, one of Ireland's most beloved writers, illuminates the anguish and ecstasies of a young woman at the heart of a family and a nation divided.