Audra (Unabridged Chick)'s Reviews > The Flight of Gemma Hardy

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey
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The first line of this novel -- We did not go for a walk on the first day of the year. -- echoes that of Charlotte Brontë's classic Jane Eyre -- There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. However, while Livesey's take echoes and mirrors the classic, she has also created an original and appealing heroine that I fell in love with and wanted to have as a friend.

Gemma, like Jane, finds herself an unloved and unwanted outsider in her aunt's home after her beloved uncle dies. Desperate only to connect, to be loved, to be a part of someone's life, Gemma attends a girl's school as a working girl, doing housework and other menial labor to earn her keep. Like Brontë's Jane, Livesey's Gemma has a strong moral compass: Gemma is determined to do what she can for herself, and she has the dogged determinism of a girl who thinks if she just works hard enough, her rewards -- friends, a job, love -- will come in time. (In some ways, I found bits of myself in 10-year old Gemma: goody two-shoes, as she was teased, who just wanted love and learning. I flashed back to 5th grade while reading this whole section!)

Like in Jane Eyre, Gemma takes employment as a governess (or, in this case, an au-pair), and she finds herself in love with her dashing, mysterious employer, Mr. Sinclair. There's a secret, of course, and a panicked flight, and resolution, and while all those elements reflect Jane Eyre, the more contemporary setting and the attitude and mores of 1960s Scotland took the story and the characters in a new direction that I just loved. (Although, I'm ashamed to admit, I didn't wholly buy the romance with Gemma and Mr. Sinclair -- but I also didn't get the romance between Jane and Rochester in Jane Eyre.)

There's a Gothic feel to the novel, with Gemma's hideous girl's school and the despicable Mrs. Bryant, and later, the moodiness of Mr. Sinclair and his past. I don't want to give away the secret of Mr. Sinclair but I appreciated Livesey's handling of this famous twist. I was apprehensive this would get cartoon-y or very into melodramatic gothic, but Livesey was consistent with the mood and the characters.

And the writing. Livesey is just a great writer -- end of story. (Ha, a kind of pun!) The story flowed -- I hesitate to say 'raced', because I didn't feel like I was running so much as caught in the prose -- and I just didn't want to put this book down. I was hanging on every lovely word.

I have to confess, Jane Eyre isn't my favorite Brontë novel, so I didn't anticipate having problems with this novel. I love the 'what if?' feel of Jane Eyre having to navigate her story in an era where women ostensibly have more freedom, where class differences are more and less rigid, and there's greater opportunity for someone to strike out on their own. This would make a marvelous book club selection, not only for its connection with Jane Eyre but also for the themes and moods Livesey employs. This was another book I regretted finishing and that, despite its heft, I wanted to be twice in size just so I could have more time with Gemma Hardy.
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Reading Progress

03/07/2012 page 33
7.0% "Totally charmed already." 4 comments

Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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Audra (Unabridged Chick) Are you a hardcore JE fan? From what I've heard, if you love/dig JE, this falls short. I've only read JE once about a thousand years ago and I was warned to not read it again close to reading this or I'd feel v bored...

message 2: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Ooh, you've made me interested in this - we should do something about it for the JE Project!

message 3: by Page (new) - added it

Page Crusherz I cannot wait to read this. GREAT review too. I like the comments on Gemma/ Jane having more freedom in this time period. I do feel like Jane is limited in her thought process due to her timeframe. I love her independence, but this sounds like it allows her to think even further outside of the limits by others.

message 4: by Page (new) - added it

Page Crusherz BTW, we can get back together as friends now. I'm over the hurt your JE rating gave me. Mostly.

Audra (Unabridged Chick) Page, I cannot wait to see what you think of this when you get to it -- I really fell in love with Gemma and this book (save for Sinclair) -- maybe we can do a read of it together -- let me know when you get it!

Audra (Unabridged Chick) Page wrote: "BTW, we can get back together as friends now. I'm over the hurt your JE rating gave me. Mostly."

I accept -- that's v reasonable. I'm almost disappointed in myself for only liking it 3 stars. I am going to try again!

message 7: by Page (new) - added it

Page Crusherz I support the cojones it takes to give JE three just hurts my heart a little. I agree, Rochester is flawed, but I can feel like he deserves happiness (minus and eye and hand, for punishment.)

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