Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Review: The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey

I first read Jane Eyre when I was in elementary school. I even still have my copy of it from then, a mass market copy published by Scholastic. I have always loved the story so when I saw that Margot Livesey's novel The Flight of Gemma Hardy was a retelling of Jane Eyre, I was thrilled to get my hands on it.

Opening with Gemma at her unwelcoming and unpleasant aunt's house, she soon leaves for a girls' boarding school where she is expected to work for her meager education. She has not felt love since her Scottish uncle died so her lonely existence at the school is nothing new for her. But when she makes a friend there, she gives her whole heart, grieving when she loses that friend and wondering what life has in store for her next. With the school closing down, she finds an au pair position at Blackbird Hall on the Orkney Islands working for the moody and yet enticing Mr. Sinclair. As Gemma tames and teaches his niece Nell, she finds herself falling for him as well and he for her until the revelation of his secret pushes her away causing her desperate flight from the Orkneys and Mr. Sinclair and everything he represents. It is only with her departure from Blackbird Hall that Gemma will mature beyond the girl she was and uncover the truth about her Icelandic roots and family. Gemma wants to be well regarded and well loved, a desire that drives the entire second half of the book, at which point the novel moves afield from Jane Eyre's plot and forges its own storyline.

This novel follows the story line from Jane Eyre extremely closely and Gemma and Jane are very clearly parallel characters so that anyone who has read and remembers Jane Eyre will not be surprised by the plot developments that befall Gemma. Those who have not read Jane Eyre will not be at a disadvantage though as no knowledge of that work is necessary to read and enjoy this one. The one disadvantage of the parallel plots is that Mr. Sinclair's "madwoman in the attic" is anemic in comparison with the original and although his secret is necessary to drive Gemma away, it is not so impressive, dramatic, or honestly so believable as the cause of such a great rupture with a young woman who has been so starved for love. Yes, this is a novel about the search for love but not simply of the romantic variety. It is a search for belonging and home and the love that family and friends offer. It is a more modern set coming of age novel draped on the plot of the much loved Jane Eyre. And it works that way. The writing flows smoothly, beautifully and even for a reader like me who knew what was round the bend, it was still enjoyable rounding those bends.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.


  1. I just finished April Lindner's _Jane_, another retelling of Bronte's book. Lindner skipped the boarding school but did a good job with the secret in the attic. It was a fun read for a Jane Eyre fan; I'll have to look up this one as well.

    Thanks for the review.

  2. This sounds like a book that I would really enjoy. Thank you for your review.


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