Gemma Hardy is orphaned at a very young age in Iceland and goes to live with her uncle in Scotland. The uncle then dies, leaving Gemma with her heinous aunt and three bratty cousins. Gemma’s aunt is tired of supporting her and sends Gemma off to boarding school. The boarding school is not all fun and games, though, as Gemma is forced to work to earn her keep. There is one bright spot in the experience, though, as Gemma makes her first friend and learns what it is to love and be loved. When she reaches adulthood, Gemma accepts a position as an au pair in the remote Orkney Islands. While in her position, she meets the mysterious, yet alluring Mr. Sinclair. The two fall in love, but circumstances and betrayal separate them. Gemma leaves, learns to become more independent, yet never stops missing Mr. Sinclair.
Ok… sound familiar yet? The Flight of Gemma Hardy is a retelling or homage or what-have-you of my all-time-favorite book, Jane Eyre. When I heard about it, I knew I had to read it! That said, however, I don’t read many inspired by or retelling sorts of books. I was a little startled by how close some scenes were to the original (hiding in the curtains reading a book about birds in the first chapter, for example), but I don’t really know if that is a good or bad thing. I suppose I was a little irritated with it at times and at others I could excuse it. Don’t ask me why; I guess I’m fickle that way.
This was a pretty enjoyable read. I especially loved what Livesey did with Gemma. You get much more of Gemma’s interior life in this book than you do with Jane Eyre and because of that I came to understand Jane’s motives in a slightly different manner. Like… I never spent much time pondering the age difference between Jane and Rochester, but the age and maturity difference between Gemma and Sinclair is ultimately what makes Gemma leave. Gemma was a delightful character and it is really great to see her grow up and to come into her own.
However… the romance between Gemma and Fauxchester fell flat for me. It started off with some sparks, but the big secret that tears them apart? Ummm, let’s just say it is no wife in the attic. Or really even something that I saw as being abandon-him-worthy. And then the reunion is just kinda meh, as well. Gemma was far more interesting on her own than she was with Fauxchester and I think this book could have held up just as well (if not better) if they didn’t end up together.
If you are a fan of Jane Eyre, you’ll probably enjoy this one… though the romance might not live up to your expectations. Still an enjoyable read, though!
- Iceland– The settings are really well done in this book and Iceland is particularly important to Gemma’s identity formation. I had no idea I cared about the culture/history of Iceland, but this book certainly piqued my interest!
- 1960s– The book ends in the late 1960s, so Gemma is really on the cusp of some massive cultural upheaval. I thought this was an interesting time to set the story of a woman discovering herself and making herself independent, as women’s lib was soon to hit the scene.
I discovered this book by reading Asheley’s review over at Into the Hall of Books.
6 thoughts on “The Flight of Gemma Hardy- Margot Livesey”
Welcome back! I’ll admit I haven’t read Jane Eyre (I know it was assigned in high school, but I was notoriously stubborn about reading what I wanted to read and not what teachers told me to).
Kind of reminds me of my experience reading “Fifty Shades” (obviously very different books). I spent the whole time just being amused by how close the main plot points lined up with Twilight. There’s definitely a very careful balance that needs to be met if you’re an author trying to retell a classic. Have you read “Epic Fail” by Claire LaZebnik? It’s a retelling of “Pride and Prejudice” that is set in a private high school.
I generally stay away from things advertised as retellings… gave this one a chance, though, and it wasn’t too bad. It was definitely an experience mediated by the original, which helped keep me engaged, but also made it difficult for it to not pale in comparison.
I’ve actually never been able to finish Pride and Prejudice (I’ve tried a couple of times and didn’t like what I got through) so when I hear something is a retelling of it, I usually try to avoid it.
Aw, i saw iceland and jane eyre and was all excited, but thanks for your review – you will save me a disappointment i think? Im curious if you have read Jane by April Lindner and if so what you thought? I had similar responses to what you had here…
I have not read Jane, but I think the hardest part about retelling Jane Eyre is the Rochester and his secrets part. I just can’t think of a secret as destructive to a relationship as a mad wife in the attic, so I think any modernization of that will definitely pale in comparison.
The special thing (supposedly) about The Flight of Gemma Hardy is that it includes her childhood (which Jane skips over, according to Goodreads). I enjoyed this book– except the Rochester parts. If you want to read a retelling for the romance, then skip this. If you want to get a little deeper into what makes a Jane Eyre-like character tick, then you might try it. Or just re-read Jane Eyre and get both 🙂
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