Coming of age, the impact of class, and familial and romantic love are the prevalent motifs, along with the instinct toward escape and subsequent nostalgia for home. Some of the stories are linked, and some carry O'Brien's distinct sense of the comical. In "A Rose in the Heart of New York", the single-mindedness of love dramatically derails the relationship between a girl and her mother while in "Sister Imelda" and "The Creature", the strong ties between teacher and student and mother and son are ultimately broken.
Frances Donaldson led a wonderfully multi-faceted life. As the daughter of the playwright Frederick Lonsdale, she grew up in the frivolous world of 1920s cafe society, yet she became a committed socialist. As the wife of Lord Donaldson, who was on the board of both London opera houses and was subsequently Minister for the Arts, she was at the centre of cultural life in Britain.