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The Flight of Gemma Hardy

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When her widower father drowns at sea, Gemma Hardy is taken from her native Iceland to Scotland to live with her kind uncle and his family. But the death of her doting guardian leaves Gemma under the care of her resentful aunt, and it soon becomes clear that she is nothing more than an unwelcome guest at Yew House. When she receives a scholarship to a private school, ten-year-old Gemma believes she's found the perfect solution and eagerly sets out again to a new home. However, at Claypoole she finds herself treated as an unpaid servant.

To Gemma's delight, the school goes bankrupt, and she takes a job as an au pair on the Orkney Islands. The remote Blackbird Hall belongs to Mr. Sinclair, a London businessman; his eight-year-old niece is Gemma's charge. Even before their first meeting, Gemma is, like everyone on the island, intrigued by Mr. Sinclair. Rich (by Gemma's standards), single, flying in from London when he pleases, Hugh Sinclair fills the house with life. An unlikely couple, the two are drawn to each other, but Gemma's biggest trial is about to begin: a journey of passion and betrayal, redemption and discovery, that will lead her to a life of which she's never dreamed.

Set in Scotland and Iceland in the 1950s and '60s, The Flight of Gemma Hardy--a captivating homage to Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre--is a sweeping saga that resurrects the timeless themes of the original but is destined to become a classic all its own.

443 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2012

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About the author

Margot Livesey

26 books404 followers
Margot grew up in a boys' private school in the Scottish Highlands where her father taught, and her mother, Eva, was the school nurse. After taking a B.A. in English and philosophy at the University of York in England she spent most of her twenties working in restaurants and learning to write. Her first book, a collection of stories called Learning By Heart, was published in Canada in 1986. Since then Margot has published eight novels: Homework, Criminals, The Missing World, Eva Moves the Furniture, Banishing Verona, The House on Fortune Street, The Flight of Gemma Hardy and Mercury. She has also published The Hidden Machinery: Essays on Writing. Her ninth novel, The Boy in The Field, will be published by HarperCollins in August, 2020.

Margot has taught at Boston University, Bowdoin College, Brandeis University, Carnegie Mellon, Cleveland State, Emerson College, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Tufts University, the University of California at Irvine, the Warren Wilson College MFA program for writers, and Williams College. She has been the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the N.E.A., the Massachusetts Artists' Foundation and the Canada Council for the Arts. Margot is currently teaching at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,666 reviews
Profile Image for Kerry Kilburn.
89 reviews13 followers
April 10, 2012
In her acknowledgements, Margot Livesey writes that her literary inspiration for this tale should be clear. I would argue that "inspiration" is too weak a word for the novel whose events are, with very few exceptions, scrupulously followed from start (the orphaned niece hiding behind the curtains reading a book about birds) to finish (reconciliation with the metaphorical lord of the manor). Because Gemma Hardy is retracing Jane Eyre's footsteps, reading this book became more an exercise in remembering the latter than in immersing myself in the world of the former. And, in this case, the cliché fits: The Flight of Gemma Hardy pales by comparison with Jane Eyre. I found Gemma herself to be mildly interesting, but not terribly likable. Her connections with most of the other characters seemed either shallow or self-serving; with the exception of her one childhood friend (who, yes, died . . .), I never felt that she truly loved anyone except for her deceased uncle. And while Livesey makes Gemma's deepest wishes and motivations very clear, I never connected with them on an emotional level. Reading this book felt more like observing a mildly interesting specimen of humanity than like sharing a special person's life.

All in all, a disappointing read.

Profile Image for Kelly.
889 reviews4,124 followers
August 22, 2023
Elizabeth wrote in her review that the major point in this book’s favor is that it doesn’t skip over Jane Eyre’s childhood, unlike most other retellings generally do: mostly in order to get to the fun Gothic Rochester stuff. I think that that is the right way to approach this novel, it’s certainly what Livesey has the most to say about, and it is her strongest section. The atmosphere that she created for the book’s opening was entirely appropriate. Everything is hard, a little bit sharp, with a sprinkling of sordid (though I’m not sure I liked the sordid as much). The way that Gemma constantly runs up against walls in her conversations with others was very well done, for instance. There’s always this very hard line that people won’t go past with helping her or liking her, even the people who do the decent (if not kind) thing around her. You can see how she grows up to be the girl who values her principles above everything. It is even more apparent how she becomes the girl who is brave enough to speak the truth without flinching, even to characters others might be intimidated around. It’s interesting all the degrees of obligation, excuses, and pettiness Livesey was able to collect around Gemma, and how it’s doing that 1% more that separates the good from the merely keeping-up-appearances-of-not-being-terrible. Livesey does a fantastic job of wrapping Gemma up in this universe of tired, disappointed people, where it takes years of moving mountains to let her catch even one half of a millionth of a percent of a break. Everyone wants their own choices to be validated, and the idea that Gemma somehow sees them with eyes that aren’t implicated in the game irritates everyone. Oh yes. This is the girl who leaves the day after the not-wedding.

Even the part immediately after she takes the job at not!Thornfield was good. The new location was a good choice, and her initial attitudes and relations with those around her made sense. She doesn’t immediately morph into someone desperate to please the second someone is kind to her because she’s never known it before. Her character had hardened to such an extent that that’s not going to happen. I wish we had gotten more of a sense of reaction from her about transitioning into a situation where she’s not slaving away every second of the day just to survive. I wish we’d stayed with her wandering around the fields for awhile longer.
Mostly because the second Not!Rochester showed up things went downhill pretty fast. I’ve thought a little bit about what the explanation could be. I think, ultimately, it has to do with a very astute comment of Emilie’s about how Livesey stopped taking care of her characters before the end of one of her other books. That is exactly the right way to phrase what happened here.

Except I don’t think that it was because she was rushed or half-assed, or she ran out of room or anything like that. I mean, of course I have no idea what her actual motivations were, but to me it felt like she was scared of the second part of the story, or embarrassed by it. Either way, Rochester to the end read like it was about the plot, and not about Gemma or characters anymore. The march of events and the scene work became about getting us to the next signpost, so we could have the next high point of drama between them- but reworked in a suitably modern way. A great deal of buildup in the Jane-Rochester relationship is skipped over. Livesey makes the decision that what is important to these two characters’ relationship is the jealousy stuff and the part where Rochester tells her about the opera dancer, and then the part where she runs. Those are symptoms, those are not the relationship. For me, the heart of their relationship is in the night where she nurses Mason and the scene where he sees her sketch of him. Yes, jealousy is woven through the Rochester side of the relationship, but it’s the discordant note, not the major chord. I mean, part of the failing is that this Rochester replacement is not at all compelling. He feels like a cipher. While it is unreasonable to expect the incarnation of Byron come again, I’m not sure what the point of Rochester is if he isn’t angry, sharp, intelligent, bitter. This is a vaguely dissatisfied banker with the most ridiculous let down of a secret ever, who is fairly calm and reasonable and a tad distant and absent minded. I do not see the desperation here that leads Rochester to finding the one like minded soul he can in Jane. He knows some okay people, and if he wanted to, he could clearly find someone perfectly suitable to marry. I have no idea why he lights on Gemma. Convenience? He’s just that lazy? I don’t know, but Livesey doesn’t give me a better reason.

The back half of the book loses that sense of place and people that made the first half of the book so effective. Instead, we’re rushing about trying to make sure that Jane falls in all the ditches that she needs to and then makes it back home in a way that is “believable” for the 1950s, but still hits all the signposts. She also has Gemma do something so wildly out of character that I couldn’t believe it. I mean,

The danger of retellings is certainly getting yourself trapped in the material, and that’s what happened here. The book laid such a strong foundation, it’s a shame that it was wasted on trying to squeeze her perfectly wonderful story into a tube that wasn’t big enough to hold it.
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,177 reviews540 followers
January 26, 2018
A family saga, an orphaned girl, a few plot surprises, a sweet story. A wonderful, compelling narrative. Scotland and Iceland: the strings of friendship and family weaving a bridge between two countries as well as a group of good people.

A relaxing, very good read.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,114 followers
December 22, 2015
One friend picked this book as her top read of 2015, and when I realized it was a cold weather island book and I had downloaded it on the Nook app during a sale, I decided to give it a try.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy is a more modern (but not contemporary) retelling of Jane Eyre, with a slight shift in location to Scottish islands and Iceland from the usual moors. Set in the 1960s, it doesn't often feel like the time period matters except for some of the tiny details about cultural shift (the reason her school closes down) and the changing roles of women (this has an effect on Gemma's working life for sure.) I would say the story didn't read as fresh to me except when the author is writing about Iceland, and I almost wish she had abandoned the Jane Eyre idea and written an Icelandic saga retold. Clearly she did a lot of research into the landscape and lore of Iceland and that is what she is most enamored by (for good reason! It's awesome!).

Gemma is flawed, not completely self-aware; she is young and makes mistakes. This makes her more likeable than she would have been otherwise. I do believe I added a star to this review purely for the joy in the setting shared by the author and me.
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,735 reviews477 followers
July 19, 2020
Gemma Hardy is an intelligent orphaned girl who is resented by her aunt and cousins. She is sent off to be a working girl at a boarding school. The beginning of the book is a retelling of "Jane Eyre" relocated to Scotland in the 1950s. As the book progresses, Gemma retains the spirit and fire of Jane, but her storyline does not follow "Jane Eyre" so closely.

Gemma is impoverished and alone in the world, and takes a position as an au pair on the Orkney Islands where she meets Mr Sinclair. While this situation lacks the Gothic atmosphere, the passion of Mr Rochester, and the tragic first wife in "Jane Eyre", Mr Sinclair has secrets that he's hiding too. It's a coming of age story as Gemma becomes more independent, and searches for her roots.

The second half of the book was more interesting as the book steered away from the "Jane Eyre" storyline, and Gemma has different experiences. Margot Livesey is a good storyteller who incorporated some of the history and scenic beauty of Orkney and Iceland into the book. 3.5 stars.
Profile Image for O_susannah.
17 reviews
August 16, 2012
I'm going to write a real review of this when I finish (I'm almost there), because I have strong feelings about all adaptations of Jane Eyre, and this is no exception.

For now I'll just say that I liked the beginning, but now I no longer much care for the heroine, which is a pretty big problem.

Ok, I finished the book. Anyway. This review will be full of spoilers, for the record. So obviously this book is a retelling of Jane Eyre, set in the 1960s. I guess this could work in theory, although in practice, I kept finding myself forgetting that the book wasn't set in Victorian England, because so much of what makes Jane Eyre function, plot-wise, is stuff that would really only happen in Victorian England. This was especially true in the first half of the book. But leaving that aside, let's continue.

So it's Jane Eyre, except Jane is named Gemma Hardy. The basic details (orphan, uncle loves her but dies and aunt/cousins are mean) are the same, but Gemma has an Icelandic father and in fact lives there until she's like 3. She is also much older when her uncle dies, so she actually remembers him (she gets sent to school just a bit after he dies). I actually really enjoyed the part of the book that dealt with Gemma's childhood. It was gripping, it was well written, and it drew me in. The basic details were obviously taken from Jane Eyre (Helen is named Miriam in this version), but it had enough difference that it kept you reading to see where it would be taken. The injustice of Jane's childhood is what drew me into Jane Eyre when I first read it as a child, and the horror of Gemma's situation did the same here. Definitely effective. This is a digression, but the supernatural elements were a bit more emphasized than in Jane's childhood; there is a clear ghost, and multiple characters see him and interact with him. And he recurs throughout the book. Also there are some psychic times. (BTW, were there no child labor laws in the 1960s? I was a bit perplexed by what went down in the school, and it was one reason I had a hard time remembering when the story was set).

Anyway, the book starts to derail a bit once Gemma arrives at "Blackbird Hall." Vicky (Mrs. Fairfax) and Nell (Adele) both work well enough, although Nell is a bit less loveable than her Brontean counterpart. She is also Mr. Sinclair's (Mr. Rochester) actual niece, not the daughter of a French whore. She's his dead sister's child. Anyway, Mr. Sinclair is a bit lackluster. Basically, their relationship kind of develops out of nothing. It happens even more quickly than in Jane Eyre, and it's not really clear where the spark comes from. Gemma says it's because he treats her as an equal, but it's not apparent in the way it is in Jane Eyre. The Coco (Blanche Ingram) plotline is also rushed, and you never actually get the idea that he likes her at all. And Coco sabotages herself pretty immediately by having a total meltdown in front of a whole party, and puts the final nail in the coffin by almost smacking Nell. There's really never any question that he'll marry her, so there's not the same anguish for Gemma that Jane feels.

But where the book really lost me was what it did with Bertha Mason. Or really, what it didn't do. There *is* no madwoman in the attic here. There's not even a secret wife or a mistress. Gemma's wedding gets broken off at the altar, by her, and for a reason that I still don't really understand. Basically, Vicky's brother, Seamus (Grace Poole, sort of), shows up in the middle of the wedding and is all, "You used to use my name when it suited you!" Vicky and Seamus are also Sinclairs, and are distant cousins of Hugh Sinclair (Rochester). During WWII, Hugh was assigned to dig coal for the army and Seamus got drafted into the air force. But Hugh is totally claustrophobic and doesn't want to mine, so he convinces Seamus to switch with him (they look a lot alike). Seamus agrees, but only because Hugh promises that he'll get his sister Allison (Nell's mother) to marry Seamus, if he possibly can. It all works out, except that Allison never marries Seamus. Instead she falls off a horse and eventually dies as a result of her drug addiction. Oops. But until then, it seems like everyone was relatively happy with the arrangement.

Anyway, so Hugh never told anyone about this, and Seamus outs him because he's like "If I couldn't have Allison, why should you get Gemma?!" which makes no sense. And to be fair to Sinclair, he did warn Gemma repeatedly that he'd been a different person in the past. And he promises to tell her after they're married, and makes her swear that she won't hate him. And she agrees enthusiastically, and also agrees that after the wedding she'll tell a lot of secrets she's been keeping.

But after Seamus' big revelation, the big deal of which I still really don't get, Gemma flips the heck out and runs away. She almost dies, of course, and ends up with Archie (St. John) et al. Except that the Diana and Mary counterparts are actually a lesbian couple named Hannah and Pauline (Hannah is Archie's sister). Instead of teaching at a school, Gemma gets a job nannying this little boy named Robin. He lives with his grandparents, Marian and George. George has had a stroke, and Marian is so busy caring for him that Robin is just too much for her.

But here's where it really gets bad. See, Jane Eyre is not a selfish person. She sticks to her principles and refuses to compromise them, but without being self-centered or hateful or entitled. Gemma is the opposite. She apparently leaves Mr. Sinclair because he lied to her (about something that had no bearing on their relationship and happened before she was born...), and apparently nothing is worse than lying? But Gemma grows up to be a horrible person, complete with the lies. When Gemma leaves Claypoole (the book's version of Lowood), it's because the school closes. It closes just before she gets to take her university entrance exams. And she really wants to go to college. So Archie arranges for her to take them, and to sit in on classes at the local high school to review, AND he helps her study ALL THE TIME. And helps her with other stuff. Hannah and Patricia and George and Marian are also super nice to her. Marian is very flexible about time off for exams and studying (and trips to visit her dying aunt), and Hannah and Patricia let her come over all the time to hide from any possible studying distractions.

But instead of being grateful, Gemma apparently just feels like this is her due. And also she really wants to go to Iceland, and it turns out Archie is also interested in Iceland. So he spends extra time with her reading sagas and crap, and it's SO OBVIOUS to everyone, including Gemma, that she's encouraging him. And then one day, after she's passed her exams, he invites her to go to Iceland with him "as my..." but she cuts him off and accepts enthusiastically. Later, when she shows up at a celebratory dinner thrown by Hannah and Pauline, it turns out that he had said "as my wife." Oops. But instead of setting stuff straight then and there, Gemma keeps leading everyone on because she doesn't want to miss out on Iceland. She keeps trying to find a way to make the trip work just as friends, but without telling poor Archie.

When she finally does decide to cross the Rubicon, she does so by seeing if she can get Archie to kiss her (she doesn't think he's physically attracted to her). He freaks out and leaves, so she feels justified in her next inexplicable steps, which are to run away, but not before STEALING ALL OF MARIAN'S MONEY FROM HER DRESSER. She leaves a note that basically says "Yeah, I still really want to go to Iceland and I don't have enough money. I promise I'll pay you back someday! Bye!" She also sends Hannah and Pauline a note that says "sorry it didn't work out with your brother," and then she just jets off to Iceland.

Anyway, long story short, she finds her long lost family in Iceland, and also a bank account with her inheritance from her parents. So now she's rich and plans to fly back to Hannah et al. and resume her job? Except meanwhile Mr. Sinclair has tracked her down, and plops himself down next to her on the airplane because he is an excellent stalker. And then she realizes that she is TOTALLY a liar just like him, so now she doesn't have to hate him. But she doesn't agree to marry him yet. First she wants to be a grown up on her own terms for a bit, and go to college, etc. Which, fair enough; she's like 18 and he's 41. I'd want to be sure too. Except it seems pretty clear that she is sure, given the rest of the book. But that's the end.

So, yeah. It started off well, but there are a few fatal flaws in the story. I didn't even tell you about the poor teacher whose life she and her aunt manage to ruin (it's really not Gemma's fault, although there were steps that could possibly have been taken to mitigate the damage, had she used her brain. But she was only 10 so I'll let that slide). But still, it was well-written; I couldn't put it down. It's a quick read, even though it's long, and over all I did enjoy it well enough. It's just nowhere near as good as the original.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Janet.
144 reviews60 followers
February 13, 2012
Touted as a Jane Eyre cover this had about as much bite as Wayne Newton doing a cover of “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” by the Stones. Here’s the deal: the strength of Jane Eyre resided solely in the steeliness of Jane’s character which was surprisingly unsentimental. Despite her meager starting point she developed a strong sense of self putting one foot in front of the other and always moving forward; at no point did Bronte’s Jane ever present herself as a victim. Livesey’s Gemma is a handwringing sniveler with zero pluck and even less initiative – there is not even a chalk stripe of independence running through her. Sinclair, Gemma’s Rochester, is a cardboard cut-out making this integral storyline virtually non-existent, astral telegrams aside. The unanswered question? Why the reader should care about Gemma at all.

Singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell was quoted as saying that while she sings the same songs over and over no one ever asked Van Gogh to paint “Starry Night” again. By the same token, classic works of fiction are best left untampered.
Profile Image for Tamsen.
987 reviews
February 3, 2015
I have been waiting 450 pages to write a scathing review, and now that I'm here to destroy this, I kind of feel rather tired about the whole thing.

This is awful, and I'm not sure what was the most irritating. This is supposed to be 'inspired' by Jane Eyre, but is basically a rewrite set in the 1950s-60s. I'm going to use quotes around "modern" retelling, because frankly, it's shocking every time you hear someone reference a plane or television. Everyone speaks and acts as if they live down the road from Jane Eyre herself. At one point, Gemma is 30 miles away from her hometown, but those are "long country miles" so no other townies ever reference the town or know anyone there. Those 30 long country miles might as well be light years. THIS IS THE SIXTIES. This isn't Laura Ingalls Wilder. It's like Livesey was copying word for word from Jane Eyre and forgot that in her retelling, there are modern conveniences.

The other thing that makes this novel really just shit, and there is no other word for it, is that Livesey tries hard to channel Gemma as Jane Eyre (likable, strong, unbreakable and resilient) but fails miserably. There's something missing in Gemma's core - she could never be Jane. Another reviewer calls her an "ugly character," and boy, is she ever. For every person she meets that hates her, there are 3 or 4 in their stead that love her. These people give her a home or feed her or find her a job or befriend her or offer to marry her. She is lucky constantly to find these friends, but never is grateful, always wishing for a real home.

We are supposed to love Gemma, like we love dear Jane Eyre, and want this aching wish fulfilled for her - for her to find love with Mr. Roch - er, Mr. Sinclair. (P.S. He's no Mr. Rochester.) But the reader never connects with Gemma - because over and over again, she fucks over the people who are the best to her... and let me list the ways.

I guess I gathered some steam here. It was really quite an infuriating book. The worst part of all is that we are supposed to believe that all Gemma wants is a family to make her own. She finds "family" and love in friendships - wonderful friendships, and she throws them away over, and over, and over again. Jane Eyre is an amazing book, and when you glance at these two books (Jane Eyre and Gemma Hardy), you think briefly - ah yes, these are the same. The same general outline is here. It's just that you can't outshine Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, and how foolish of Livesey to think she ever could.

Edited to add: I have been thinking about how much this book pissed me off, and I still have an angry knot in my stomach. I am infuriated that anyone thinks this is good (especially if you never read Jane Eyre - god, how sad for a reader to have read this crap before an amazing original classic). I wish I had never wasted my time on this book. I angry-hate read this book and I never want to relive the experience.
Profile Image for Ellen.
165 reviews12 followers
February 4, 2012
I wanted to like this book more than did, what with all of the pre-publication hoopla about it and I am teaching Jane Eyre right now.

Perhaps the latter is the problem. I am teaching Jane Eyre right now, so I am reminded of how wonderful that book is -- and this book, although Livesey tries, just can't live up to its inspiration, Bronte's novel.

Granted, I was with Livesey at the start. Jane Eyre has been updated so that young, orphaned Gemma has to leave Iceland (her father's homeland) when he dies (her Scottish mother already is dead) to live with her mother's brother and his family in Scotland. When the book starts, it's 1958, the uncle is dead, the two female cousins who had been friendly with Gemma now view her with disdain, her male cousin is awful and her aunt is worse. It's off to boarding school for Gemma -- but not just any boarding school. It's one that she can attend for free, as long as she works for her keep.

So far, so good. I'm even all right with the Helen Burns stand-in, and I actually rather like how Jane becomes an au pair because she can't afford university. The fact that she's an au pair way up in the Orkneys? Fine by me. And when we finally meet the mysterious Mr. Sinclair, more the better.

It's when Gemma runs away from Sinclair, as Jane runs away from Rochester, that I cannot suspend my disbelief any longer. Gemma's reason for leaving pales in comparison to Jane's, and I really just don't get it. Some later scenes seem a bit forced, although there's a return to Iceland that's compelling. However, Jane's return from Iceland to Scotland contains an element of surprise that I just didn't fall for.

Therefore, it's three stars. It's not bad, but this book certainly doesn't live up to its hype. Alas, reader, I liked it a bit, but I fear it lost me at times. I think I'll stick with the original.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Amy Lignor.
Author 10 books221 followers
January 12, 2012
As all readers know, the beauty, tragedy, inspiration, and loveliness that came from the original Jane Eyre is something that many over the years have tried to imitate or duplicate. Seeing as that you would have to be a remarkable writer to even touch the magic that Charlotte Bronte created, all that can be said is that THIS is a remarkable writer. This contemporary retelling based loosely on the original is filled with characters that the reader will remember far into the future, perhaps with readers one day comparing the two when Ms. Livesey’s version joins the first in literary history.

Gemma Hardy’s incredibly kind uncle was full of compassion and love for the young girl. He was the one who stepped-up when Gemma’s parents met their odd fates. In Iceland, in her home by the beautiful sea, Gemma lost her mother when she took a fall and hit her head while protecting Gemma; and her father was lost when he went out on his boat for work and the boat came back without him, drowning in the ice-cold sea. Gemma’s uncle was a savior but, unfortunately, her tragedy did not stop there. When her uncle was skating by himself on the frozen river near his home he fell through the ice and succumbed to the reaper, as well. And when that accident happened, Gemma’s aunt and cousins turn into the nastiest people on the face of the earth.

Gemma finds freedom, at first, by being accepted into a boarding school called Claypoole - far away from the horror and pain she left behind with her so-called family. Claypoole looks lovely from he outside. Unfortunately, upon entering, Gemma sees her lot in life; she will simply be a slave, bullied by teachers and students while she tries her best to fight her way through yet another tragic chapter of her life. This fiercely intelligent young girl finds even more determination when Cecil, the library ghost, appears, and she ends up growing up with her spine straight and her mind firmly focused on having a life of her own.

From the dark, desolate hallways of Claypoole to the amazing au pair job Gemma accepts with the Sinclair’s on an island where the Orkneys - Gemma’s favorite bird is honored - she finds herself a part of an odd family unit. With her strength and determination intact, she falls for a type of man who is the owner of secrets, yet he is also the owner of a heart that perhaps young Gemma can one day own.

Every scene is monumental in its own way. The characters are so enticing, the reader simply does not want to put this book down. The contemporary feel flows quite easily with the memories of the original Jane Eyre. Gemma goes from abused girl to a woman who finds redemption, love, and peace at last.

An amazing book filled with such beautifully written locales that one can actually smell the scent of the sea; and a girl who is impossible not to fall in love with as she overcomes trials that the rest of us can hardly imagine. A MUST READ!

Profile Image for Avry15.
194 reviews78 followers
October 16, 2014
originally appeared on:Bookshelf Confessions

I haven’t read Jane Eyre, yeah, I know, you can’t believe me. But I live in the Philippines, and we’re not required to study English Classic Literatures, except when you majored in it in college. So, I have nothing to compare “The Flight of Gemma Hardy” to.

Even though this book is a tribute to Bronte’s Jane Eyre, I find myself falling for this book’s charm alone. I don’t need to compare it with the original classic, because this one is not an old classic, but rather a retelling of a great classic in another way. It’s something of a modern and revitalizing tale that is wonderful in its own way.

Every scene in the book is monumental and heart-breaking. The author’s writing is compelling and has this wonderful flow that the story is not forced at all. Iceland and Scotland, complete with their history and geography was also vividly described that I find it easy to picture the places and bring myself back into the 50’s and 60’s time.

The characters are unique in their own way. Some of them, you might hate, but this only makes the story real and engaging. The plot is filled with twist and emotions.

Gemma Hardy’s life was no other. She lost both her dear parents and even her uncle who took care of her after her parent’s death has suffered the same fate with the reaper. Unfortunately for Gemma, life was never as she knows it when her aunt and cousins showed that they are not nice at all. And a whole lot of adventure, tragedy and learning sprout in Gemma’s journey from a young girl into a full grown woman.

I instantly liked Gemma Hardy from the very first page. Although her life was sad and full of tragedy, her little light of hope can’t help but shine through in everything she’s been true.

“The Flight of Gemma Hardy” has its own beauty, inspiration and tragedy which it could be proud of. I’m glad to be part of Gemma’s journey of passion and betrayal, secrets, lies, learning and growth, dreams and friendship.

Ms. Margot Livesey is another brilliant contemporary writer and “The Flight of Gemma hardy” is another brilliant masterpiece.

Highly Recommended!
Profile Image for Bree (AnotherLookBook).
196 reviews61 followers
March 27, 2018
I became briefly obsessed with this book during the two days in which I devoured it. Originally I had it on my reading list in homage to my upcoming Scotland trip—little did I realize how much it would speak to my other upcoming trip to Iceland!

Silly me, I only realized at the end that this author also wrote Eva Moves the Furniture. I remember finding that on my mom’s bookshelf during high school and being really struck by it. So this great Scottish author strikes again!
Profile Image for Asheley T..
1,334 reviews118 followers
June 16, 2015
(a similar version of this review can be found here at Into the Hall of Books: http://www.intothehallofbooks.com/201...)

THE FLIGHT OF GEMMA HARDY by Margot Livesey is a beautiful story that is reminiscent of Charlotte Bronte's classic JANE EYRE. Gemma is orphaned at a young age; both of her parents die in Iceland tragically while she is still very young. Gemma's Uncle, having made a promise to his sister, travels to Iceland to bring Gemma back to live in Scotland with him.

Under the care of her Uncle, Gemma has an impossible time bonding with her evil Aunt and Cousins Will, Louise, and Veronica. Not long after she comes to live in Scotland, tragedy strikes again and her beloved Uncle is killed - leaving her lonely and heartbroken in a house full of people who never wanted her there to from the start. They always felt like she didn't belong with them - like she does not contribute to the household in any way and she actually owes them money for allowing her to live there. Aunt jumps eagerly at an opportunity to send Gemma away to a boarding school - just to get her out of the house - and Gemma actually looks forward to this as well, thinking that nothing could be worse than living with the people she calls "family." She is thrilled when it is time to leave for school.

When Gemma arrives at Claypoole, however, she is treated far worse than she ever was when she lived with her aunt and cousins. Not only is she a scholarship student, but she has to work off the remaining portion of her tuition. The "regular" students humiliate and tease her without ceasing and her fellow working students beat and bully her constantly. Her food and possessions are repeatedly stolen, and Gemma performs chores to the point of over-exhaustion daily in addition to maintaining her schoolwork to the best of her ability. Probably worst of all, Gemma's best and only friend at Claypoole, Miriam, becomes sick and dies while still a student at the school, leaving Gemma devastated. This very tough life begins when she arrives at the school at the tender age of 9 or 10 and continues until the school closes due to financial strain when Gemma is around 17 years old...just before her education is completed and exams are performed for entry into university. Luckily Gemma is quickly able to find a job as an au pair and moves straight from Claypoole to a place of steady employment.

Gemma is both excited and nervous to become teacher and caretaker of Nell, the orphaned niece of Mr. Hugh Sinclair, a wealthy business living in London. Gemma moves out to the rather secluded family farm and eventually makes progress with Nell where other past caretakers have failed and quickly given up. Nell is a difficult child, you see, and quite manipulative - but this does not deter Gemma because she is able to see a bit of herself in Nell and has patience and grace with her. The two form a loving and trusting relationship that is lovely to read. While working with Nell, Gemma and Hugh Sinclair fall in love and decide to marry. However, there are some secrets floating around between Mr. Sinclair and his staff, and upon learning some of these rather large secrets from the past, Gemma literally runs away from him - leaving him stranded and without explanation of her decision.

Heartbroken, she decides to see if she can find her birth parents' family in Iceland with what little money she has saved, and very early into this journey all of her possessions are stolen - including her travel tickets, money, and suitcase. Gemma spends a few nights sleeping in a church while she has no place to go and eventually starts moving again almost aimlessly, only to end up passed out in a ditch due to exhaustion. She is found by a local gentleman and taken to the home of Hannah and Pauline, two eccentric ladies who nurse her back to health and treat her with kindness and respect while doing so.

Building on the kindness and friendship of Hannah and Pauline AND deciding to stick around the area for awhile, Gemma takes a job taking care of another child, this time a little boy. She moves in with Marian and helps her take care of her grandson Robin, which enables Marian to focus on her husband George, who has rapidly declining health that requires most of her attention. During this time, Gemma makes a friend or two around town, finds some wonderful encouragement, and studies intensely for the examinations that could grant her admission into the local university, which has been her ultimate goal for years - since long before her boarding school closed down.

It is at the point of meeting Hannah and Pauline that I began to notice the biggest growth and development in Gemma...I'm not sure if it is because:
someone is finally showing her some real respect, love, and kindness OR she is growing and maturing in age

Either way, at this point in the book, things start to look way up for this girl IN MY OPINION. Gemma begins to really take charge of her own life and her own decisions, and this is really a wonderful thing for her as she has spent her entire life being mistreated, neglected, and basically abused by other people. I'm sure it wasn't the author's intent - but most likely my own invention - but I think of the book as BEFORE being found in the ditch and AFTER being found in the ditch.
A few other things I loved about this book:

1. The Setting. Scotland and Iceland. The author did a great job of setting this book well. The descriptions are vivid. I loved the talk of the landscape, of course, but also of the actual geography - including the names of the towns and bodies of water. As I am largely unfamiliar with this area of the world and haven't really read books set in this area before, I really enjoyed this! And as a bonus, I loved how the author used character names that are authentic to these areas. I thought it flowed very well.

2. Secondary Characters. While Gemma is an extremely developed character (with excellent continued growth from cover-to-cover), the huge cast of secondary characters is also developed well, which is important to me in a great book. I love a set of fleshy, three-dimensional characters and most of these fit this description. In particular, certain characters at Claypoole (the boarding school), Mr. Sinclair & Nell, and Hannah & Pauline are among my favorite in this secondary cast.

In a book as hefty as this one, with settings and character sets that change as frequently as they do, it is almost impossible to make every character as well-developed as Gemma Hardy. But we have some real winners in this novel, for sure.

3. The Cover. This cover is stunning and cohesive to the story. There is a part in the beginning of the book where Gemma is narrating and speaking about picturing herself as a small island in a sea...I always find it particularly wonderful when the cover design works with the story. And there it is, easy as pie, right there for us in the beginning of Chapter One.

Friends, for a large part of this story - a really large part - I wanted to grab Gemma and bring her home with me, give her someplace safe and warm, and help her flourish. I wanted to feed her and tell her to play and just be a kid. Be happy. Her life starts out so hard and tumultuous and heartbreaking. And the thing is that it just keeps getting worse and it never lets up for years. Amazingly, Gemma is resilient and strong and courageous, and she overcomes all of the obstacles that she faces. She is a character that I can cheer for and get behind. Throughout all of the heartache and pain in this story, there still is an underlying thread of hope, and I'm glad that I was able to cling to it, because it paid off big-time in the end for me.

This is a book that you want to read, trust me. It is beautiful and breath-taking, While it isn't light and fluffy, it is so worth reading. And if you're anything like me, you'll hug the book when you're finished.
THE FLIGHT OF GEMMA HARDY will appeal to fans of:

Adult Fiction/Literary Fiction
Coming-of-Age Stories
Strong Characterization
Historical Fiction - late 1950's - 1960's
Books that are heavy on Setting: Scotland & Iceland

is currently available for purchase.

**I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest opinion and review. I received no compensation for my thoughts. Thank you HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours!
Profile Image for Lacie Ernst.
180 reviews
August 11, 2014
I'm giving this book 3.5 stars. This is a modern-day adaptation of Jane Eyre, one of my favorite books. This book follows the basic framework of the original. Having recently read Jane Eyre, it was easy for me to follow the storyline and "plug-in" the characters. Unfortunately for me, it was probably one of the reasons I didn't "love" this book. I wanted to like this book more, but my love of Jane's character got in the way and I couldn't separate her from Gemma. Gemma is interesting, but not entirely likeable. I really couldn't connect with Mr. Sinclair, the Rochester character. I felt like there was emotion and chemistry lacking between him and Gemma. I wanted more romance! And Mr. Sinclair's "big reveal" pales in comparison to Rochester's secret! Nevertheless, I did enjoy Gemma's journey of self-discovery and I wanted to know how it ended. But I was more excited when she reconnected with her long-lost family in Iceland than when she "ended up" with Mr. Sinclair.
Profile Image for Karen.
454 reviews70 followers
January 18, 2013
Being obsessed with all things Jane Eyre, as soon as I found out that this book was a modernization/retelling, I knew I had to read it. Aaaand . . . it turned out to be a bit of a mixed experience for me.

Generally, the book follows the basic storyline of Jane Eyre fairly closely, and generally I approved of the ways that Livesey made the story her own. In fact, if it wasn’t for a bit in the middle, I think I could’ve fallen in love with this book and the way Livesey stayed true to the spirit of the original plot while still developing the characters and story in ways suited to it taking place in 1960s Scotland (which setting was wonderfully well done, by the way). But I think where the book fell flat for me was in the places where the author departed drastically from Jane Eyre—namely, there is no crazy wife in the attic and there is no fire and consequently scarred Mr. Rochester (or Mr. Sinclair in this case). Livesey went with a more realistic route for those big moments, and for me, in making those aspects less dramatic, she somehow made the story less believable, because all of a sudden, without the crazy drama, the truths Gemma discovers don’t seem shocking enough to cause her to make the life-changing choices she does.

Another crucial place where the book didn’t work for me was Gemma and Mr. Sinclair’s relationship (this is the bit in the middle I mentioned earlier). I just didn’t feel the passion between them at all. In fact, it really doesn’t seem like they spend any time together or get to know each other or do any of the things that make me adore Jane and Mr. Rochester. To me, their relationship, from Gemma’s side at least, came off as unhealthy—with her falling for him because he’s the only man who’s ever paid her any real attention. She seems so desperate to be wanted that she clings to Mr. Sinclair out of gratitude and inexperience. Which was decidedly NOT the turn I wanted the relationship to take.

And honestly, Gemma is just not as likeable as Jane. Whereas I always admire Jane, Gemma tends to come off as straight-laced and sanctimonious. Plus, she makes some decisions towards the end that, while softening her holier-than-thou attitude and reconciling her to Mr. Sinclair, just didn’t seem consistent with her character.

I realize that this review is coming off more negative than I intended, so I’ll just reiterate that I did enjoy the majority of the ways the book stayed true to and departed from Jane Eyre. Not to mention the setting—from Scotland to the Orkneys to Iceland—is gorgeous. It’s just that the story didn’t come through for me in some really crucial ways. Which maybe if I didn’t love Jane Eyre so much wouldn’t have normally bothered me, but love Jane Eyre I do, so disappoint me they did. For a modernization of Jane Eyre that I endorse wholeheartedly, try "Jane," by April Lindner.

Rating: 3 / 5

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Profile Image for Thomas.
1,519 reviews8,983 followers
December 31, 2012
In one of my college essay drafts I made a metaphor comparing myself to Jane Eyre; I liked it, but I don't think my AP English Language teacher appreciated my line that went "one day, I will find my Mr. Rochester too." I just loved Jane Eyre. Out of all of the classics I've read, it probably possesses the protagonist I relate to the most. I suppose it's fitting then that the first retelling I read is one of, you guessed it, Jane Eyre.

Gemma is an orphan. First her parents passed away, then her caring uncle did as well, leaving her with her cruel aunt and teasing cousins. Yew House is a home that isn't a home, and Gemma feels wonderful when sent to Claypoole, a private school far from her remaining family. But the faculty treats her like a servant and does not reward her outstanding academics. Once again Gemma is glad to move on once the school closes, taking a job as an au pair on the Orkney Islands. There she meets Mr. Sinclair, a rich, successful businessman who tests her ability to stay true to herself.

Margot Livesey retells Jane Eyre fantastically in The Flight of Gemma Hardy in regard to setting and basic plot. The writing was modernized and exploring Scotland and Iceland added new historical paradigms to the story. While a little bit of the excitement had been removed due to how we already knew to an extent what was going to happen, I still found myself immersed in Gemma's struggles and successes. Everything felt comfortably familiar yet slightly different, like who Gemma ended up living with later in the novel as opposed to who Jane resided with.

However, I didn't connect emotionally to Gemma as I did to Jane. Maybe it's because my mind was predisposed to prefer Jane's story after reading it first, but I felt that Gemma wasn't as great a protagonist. How Livesey ended her retelling left out a lot of the introspection Jane experienced, and I thought that Jane's self-actualization was part of what made Jane Eyre so great. I'm not sure why Livesey decided to end The Flight of Gemma Hardy the way she did, but it didn't sit well with me, especially when compared to the finale of Jane Eyre.

Overall, a retelling I would recommend to huge fans of Jane Eyre. You won't receive a completely new story or one that's completely the same; rather, The Flight of Gemma Hardy blends a more modern writing style with similar plot elements from Jane Eyre. The ending left something to be desired, but I do not regret reading the book.

*review cross-posted on my blog, the quiet voice.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,781 reviews14.2k followers
February 13, 2012
I wanted to like this more than I did, and for more than the first half I did. Her writing is wonderful, her descriptions of the birds and scenery was wonderful. Parallels to Jane Eyre, especially in the beginning were certainly there, though the atmosphere was not quite as dark. She loses me when on the island Gemma, leaves Mr. Sinclair before marrying him, for a rather what I thought was really nothing, anyway I couldn't get over that, it made me not take the rest of the book as seriously as I would have.
Profile Image for Jen Meegan.
37 reviews20 followers
June 21, 2012
This is the second modern reworking of Jane Eyre I've read and I have the same comment here as I did in my review of that previous novel: Jane Eyre is a product of its time and therefore, near impossible to rewrite in a modern setting without losing something in translation. All of the things that made JE such a heady romance for 1840s Britain are the very same things that simply don't work in a modern setting. In "The Flight of Gemma Hardy", the author at least attempts to retain some of the original flavor of JE by setting her book in mid-20th century Britain (the book spans the mid-50s to mid-60s), a time when there were still few paths a penniless young woman could take beyond servitude and marriage. But it's just not the same.

I felt like this was a 3.5 star book.....it had a lot going for it and I really wanted to enjoy it more than I did. The story was well-crafted with some truly fantastic writing. Clearly Ms. Livesey is a talented author. But the story ultimately felt far too restrained and awkward, especially when it came to the relationship between Gemma and Mr. Sinclair. All the emotion and chemistry found in the original story of Jane Eyre were simply non-existant. If anything, Gemma's relationship with Sinclair felt rushed and lacked depth. Where Rochester fascinated me, Sinclair only annoyed. I found Gemma most interesting when she wasn't interacting with Sinclair (which, thankfully, was the majority of the book...the scenes between Gemma and Sinclair take up less than a quarter of the story). As a passionate, tumultuous tale of romance between two lost souls, the book failed. But as a book about a young woman's journey to find herself, this book held my interest. Truth be told, I felt more excited when Gemma reunited with her long, lost family in Iceland than when she met up with Sinclair near the end.

I'd say if you want to read this because of the whole Jane Eyre connection, do so with the understanding that you won't be getting near the level of romance found in the original story. But if you liked JE primarily because of Jane's journey of self discovery, this might be a good choice.
Profile Image for Jenny Q.
1,008 reviews54 followers
December 14, 2011
According to the author, this novel was strongly influenced by her passion for Jane Eyre and her desire "to recast Jane's journey to fit her own courageous heroine and the possibilities of her time and place." It's been a long time since I read Jane Eyre, but I don't remember it playing out like The Flight of Gemma Hardy does.

When Gemma's parents die, she's taken into her uncle's home as a young child. Her uncle dotes on her, educates her, and treats her as an equal member of the family. This causes tension with his wife and their three children. When Gemma's uncle dies in a tragic accident, Gemma's place in the household slips to little more than an unwanted shadow. Fed up with scorn, ridicule, and secondhand treatment, she latches on to her aunt's passing suggestion that she may qualify for a scholarship to boarding school. Schoolwork is where Gemma really excels, so she throws her all into entrance exams and is thrilled when she secures a "working girl" position at Claypoole. Leaving behind the painful memories of her aunt's house, Gemma prepares to launch her grand adventure. But boarding school turns out to be even worse than her aunt's house.

Isolated, lonely, and constantly walking a tightrope between bullying students and warden-like teachers, Gemma has so much work to do she barely has time for her studies, but she manages as best she can, and her refusal to give up, her determination that something better awaits her, and her clever use of subtle manipulation endear her to the reader. Gemma spends seven years at Claypoole, and when the school is forced to close before she can take her university entrance exams, Gemma has nowhere to go. Desperate for a position, she answers an ad for a nanny in the remote Orkney Islands, and the next chapter of her life begins.

And this is where she started to lose me. Though Gemma finally finds a freedom she'd never had before, and starts to blossom into her own person, I thought the story started to lose its intensity and meaning. Gemma's young charge, Nell, is a difficult child, but Gemma has a fairly easy time bringing her around. Nell's mysterious uncle Hugh is twice Gemma's age and a renowned bachelor, but Gemma seems to have an easy time getting him to fall in love with her. I was hoping for a grand, tortured love story, but it happens so quickly that it's without much substance, and Hugh's character is hardly developed. Gemma's about to have everything she ever wanted, when Hugh reveals his deepest secret, and it sends Gemma literally fleeing into the night. And I can't really understand why. It wasn't that dark of a secret. He definitely doesn't have a mad wife stashed in an attic somewhere, or anything nearly as scandalous. So that was disappointing, and for me, wasn't a big enough impetus for Gemma's "flight." As she goes about putting her life back together and seeking information about where she came from and who she is, I started to lose respect for Gemma. She makes some stupid decisions and seems to have no qualms about accepting aid from people and then leaving them high and dry. Flight becomes a pattern for her. Things start to come around full circle as the story nears the end, but by that time I was pretty much skimming just to see how she would end up reunited with Hugh, and that left me feeling flat, too.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy is beautifully written, and it does shed some light on the shifting world of women's and children's rights in 1960s Britain. I loved the first half of the book. Gemma, the child, was a great protagonist. It's when she became an adult that I lost faith in her. I have seen some rave reviews so don't let me scare you off, but it just doesn't have enough substance and emotional depth for me to sing its praises.
Profile Image for Chaitra.
3,536 reviews
December 7, 2012
I'm glad to have finished this novel 'inspired' by Jane Eyre. What it is, is a rewriting of Jane Eyre, with what was most compelling about that novel taken out and replaced by something utterly frivolous and stupid and mean. It starts out well - that is - exactly similar to Jane Eyre. The trouble starts when Gemma goes to Blackbird Hall, and we meet Mr. Sinclair. Needless to say, this is no Rochester. He's a mild mannered old banker who likes Gemma for some strange reason. Gemma likes him too, and she promises to love him no matter what his secret is. We find out on their wedding day. Now this SECRET! is so stupid, silly and every other similar adjective we can think of, that I had to read this worthless portion twice to make sure I hadn't missed the "shocking secret". But out of the blue Gemma turns into some sort of moral Gestapo and runs away, without even bothering to leave a note.

If I would abandon novels, this would have been the logical place. But since I don't, I was treated to 200+ pages of torture inflicted in the form of the character of Gemma. She wants the ladies who have rescued her from near death to keep her indefinitely (even though she's doing nothing to contribute), whines when she is given a job as a live-in nanny because she thinks the ladies wanted to get rid of her, doesn't open up to anyone about who she is and why she's running away but expects everyone to trust her, has no problems stringing along a guy because she wants to go to Iceland!, escapes from the wedding because he turns out to be gay (she doesn't have to accept her faults this way), steals money from her kind employers to go to Iceland by herself and gets a new name and a cool inheritance and then reunites with old Mr. Sinclair.

This Jane is sly and manipulative. She lies, she cheats, she only thinks of herself. And heaven forbid that she explain herself plainly. Why, when you can rob/steal/run away? She visits the grave of her parents (after an old blind aunt basically tells her to) and all she can think of is that her name is on the grave of her mother! It would have been perfectly fine if the novel had acknowledged her flaws, it might have even been a good novel. But, everyone around her thinks she's the best thing since sliced bread. The only person who calls it like it is, is the old bitch aunt. But, who cares what she thinks, right? Gemma certainly doesn't. She is quite thoughtless to her even though her aunt is revealed to have a side Gemma knew nothing about. And heaven help us if this creature would do anything as selfless as Jane when she stays with her aunt for a month to help her, no, she visits for two hours on an afternoon because she needed her birth certificate.

Ugly novel with an ugly character at its center. I should really stop reading retellings.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Kathryn.
846 reviews
January 20, 2016
This was a combination between Cinderella, Jane Eyre and some of the Victoria Holts featuring governesses that I read many, many, many moons ago. We started with Cinderella (Gemma) living in a household with her Wicked Stepmother (Aunt Edna) and the Ugly Stepsisters/brother (cousins Louise, Veronica and Will). When she is 11 years old, Cinderella escapes from them by becoming Jane Eyre, where her main function at the school is not to study, but to be part of the household help, with lessons coming a poor second. When she leaves school, she takes a post as an au pair (basically a governess) about as far north in Scotland as it is possible to go - on the Orkneys. There is a departure from the Jane Eyre storyline at some point, and then it reminded me of a Victoria Holt.

I enjoyed this book. It kept me turning the pages, wondering what was going to happen to Gemma and amazed at what kind of lives some people have to live. Thank goodness that things are so much better for women in our times!
Profile Image for Jessica J..
1,027 reviews2,049 followers
August 17, 2012
I love homages, retellings, adaptations of well-known stories. When they're done well, they can add a lot of understanding to the source material while still standing as their own piece. The Hours was brilliant in that it helped me see Mrs. Dalloway in a new light; it utilizes many aspects of Woolf's technique and nods to her plot, but it still works as an independent creature.

In the The Flight of Gemma Hardy, Margot Livesey takes Jane Eyre and plops her down in the middle of 1950s Scotland. It's been a long time since I read the Jane Eyre and it was never really one of my favorites, so I tried to focus on this as an independent piece as opposed to comparing it outright with what Bronte did. I'm still not sure if that was the right approach. Mostly because Livesey works so hard to stick to Bronte's plot that you can't avoid comparisons, but it feels unfair to base my opinion solely on how well the two synch up.

Livesey writes very well, and Gemma is an interesting character. The biggest obstacle, to me, is that most of what takes place in Jane Eyre isn't something that strikes me as particularly plausible for the 1950s. After Gemma is orphaned, she goes to live with her maternal uncle in Scotland. The uncle also passes away, and Gemma's aunt and cousins begin to treat her as a servant. Given the opportunity to escape, Gemma takes a scholarship at a boarding school, only to discover that scholarship girls at the school are little more than servants themselves. Fast forward a few years: the school's dwindling enrollment has led to its doors shutting and a desperate Gemma takes a position as a nanny/governess for Nell, the wild child niece of the single and aloof Hugh Sinclair. Despite the twenty-year age gap between the two, Gemma and Hugh fall in love.

This is all well and good for mid 19th century England, but is this really the kind of thing that's likely to happen a few decades ago? Aside from a few references to television, cars, and modern medicine, I often forgot that Gemma was growing up in relatively modern times. Livesey stuck so closely to Jane's story -- almost point for point -- that she seems to have forgotten the need to update it for a new century. Separated from the source material, Gemma's early life is so awful that it almost becomes over the top. Not that no one in the twentieth century has exclusively bad luck, but it's not usually because they're treated as a servant by their hateful aunt and again by the headmaster of their school.

Once Gemma and Mr. Sinclair fall in love, Livesey begins to diverge from Bronte's plot. I don't really know how to discuss this without spoilers, so consider yourself warned: Instead of a madwoman in the attic, Gemma leaves Mr. Sinclair because he used his distant cousin's identity to avoid unpleasant duties during the war, in exchange for trying to get his sister Allison (Nell's mother) to marry Seamus. Allison died instead and Seamus stops Gemma's wedding to announce all this because, essentially, if he couldn't have Allison, Sinclair shouldn't have Gemma.

This doesn't strike me as sufficient reason to call off the wedding and slink away from the house. The madwoman in the attic is one of the most iconic elements of 19th century literature, and taking her out of an homage to Jane Eyre that otherwise sticks to the original point by point makes little sense to me. Perhaps Livesey assumed that, in order to keep her reader guessing, she needed to change up the big secret? Okay, I can understand that. But Livesey's alternative doesn't seem comparable and it really weakens the motivations for the rest of the novel.

After Gemma leaves, Livesey returns to the original plot, but with some slight variations: Gemma ends up with a fellow named Archie, who arranges for her to nanny another child. Archie falls for Gemma and wants to marry her, but Gemma doesn't return his feelings and bails. The reason this worked in the original is that Jane did not want to marry St. John out of duty but Gemma seems to be leading Archie on the whole time and in the end steals money from her charge's grandparents in order to travel back home to Iceland, where she learns that she's inherited a fortune from her paternal uncle. She intends to go back to the family Archie set her up with, but is surprised by Mr. Sinclair on the plane. But! While she loves him, she wants to live her own life and go to college, which had been her life's ambition throughout.

The whole thing just ends up straying so much from the point of Jane Eyre that I have a hard time empathizing with Gemma once she flees from Mr. Sinclair. Jane was a noble character who sought to balance her desires with what was truly "right," which is why she runs away from Rochester when she learns that he is already married: she wants him but she knows it's wrong. She doesn't marry St. John because she doesn't truly love him, and she ultimately marries Rochester only after his first wife dies in a fire that left him blind. Gemma's actions don't seem to be motivated by this same search for balance; she just wants to be happy. Gemma's story is well-written, but it ultimately feels like Livesey's missed the point.

Like I said, it's been a while since I read Jane Eyre, but am I wrong?
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Susan.
1,062 reviews200 followers
December 4, 2011
This is an homage to Jane Eyre set in Scotland in the 1960's. The difference in the times makes Gemma's journey less sad than Jane's but she still had a difficult time. Jane was orphaned at a young age and her uncle took her in. Life was good until he died and her aunt and cousins turned on her. She was farmed out to a boarding school as a "scholarship" student which meant she worked for education and boarding. She was 10.
After the school closes, she finds the dream job for her- governess for a troubled, young girl with a single, rich and goodlooking uncle as guardian. The job is in the Orkeny Islands, a place I have always been interested in. The visits to the old stone villages and rings were really interesting. Gemma is fascinated by birds and another novel I read about the Orkneys centered on bird watchers. It must be very popular there. Anyway the handsome Mr. Sinclair discloses his deep, dark secret. It is such a mild secret that it's almost laughable. Still, for some reason, I can not clearly understand, it sends Gemma running away without even saying good-bye to her charge.
Gemma meets new people who only want to help her. In return she lies and steals to achieve her own ends. I kept reminding myself that she was only 19 but I was extrememly irritated with her. That's when I realized it was a pretty good book. I was invested in her story and wanted to see the outcome. It's a great read for a rainy day as long as you're not expecting a story the quality of "Jane Eyre".
Profile Image for Nancy Kennedy.
Author 12 books54 followers
July 20, 2012
Love Jane Eyre in the original, not in this remake. The similarities between the two stories are so numerous and so deliberate, it makes me wonder: Where is the line between an homage and outright plagiarism?
Because the plot lines were so similar, I just kept noting that fact, rather than immersing myself in this supposedly new story.

I stuck with the story for about half the book, and now I've just lost interest. The so-called love scenes between Mr. Sinclair and Gemma are so clumsy as to be laughable: "His arms tightened around me, I felt his breath in my hair and, at last, his face seeking mine." It just made me laugh, to think about this face-seeking missile.

The author also has some tics that began to annoy me, chiefest being the word "mysterious." Anything that Gemma is supposed to find incomprehensible is "mysterious." Mysterious sanitary belt, mysterious operation, mysterious gypsy fortune teller. Make us feel her confusion, don't tell us about it.

As a reader, I think I just suffered from always comparing the two books. It was the same way with Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife, her novel about a president's wife that is clearly Laura Bush. I just can't keep myself in the story when I'm always thinking about how it mirrors or deviates from the original.
Profile Image for Marcy Dermansky.
Author 6 books29k followers
July 15, 2015
I discovered this book in a beach house and so, I read this book on the beach. And did not stop reading. I loved this retelling of Jane Eyre. I wish I had not read it so quickly.
Profile Image for Sarah W..
2,137 reviews16 followers
November 24, 2020
This novel is a retelling of Jane Eyre largely set in the 1960s Scotland, so of course I loved it. Gemma Hardy starts out as an orphan who is not well liked by her aunt and cousins, is sent away to a boarding school, becomes a nanny to a mysterious family, and promptly falls in love with her handsome employer. Aspects of the tale have been updated - there's no crazy wife in the attic - and other pieces of the story have been moved around, but this novel evokes many of the things I love about the original - a rich atmosphere, a strong female voices, and a fierce determination to make one's own way in the world.
401 reviews6 followers
April 30, 2012
If you have ever wanted to read "Jane Eyre" without suffering through the prose of Charlotte Bronte, this might be the book for you. (Or it might not. Stripped of the prose of Charlotte Bronte, "Jane Eyre" can be a pretty ridiculous story. Stripped of Jane herself, it is worse.)

This book was suggested to me as a modern retelling of "Jane Eyre". I did not expect it to be a step-by-step translation, but before I was 20 pages in, I had reread the argument between Jane and her cousin in her dead uncle's library, including the assault with a book. Jane's claustrophobic reaction was distinctly described and plausible. Gemma's happened because Jane had one. Sadly (but briefly), the modernization included a crassness in the description of the cousins' bathroom habits.

Part of the difficulty the author had, I think, was caused by trying to fit certain events into another time period. Some of these efforts were weak and others absurd. Some of them worked well, though. I kept reading to the end to find out how this-thing-from-"Jane-Eyre" would manifest in this book. There also are some loose ends I expected to be miraculously tied up (like Jane finding her inheritance by stumbling into her cousins' home), but they were left dangling, despite a seeming multitude of illegitimate children roaming about.

Ultimately, I don't buy any romantic connection between Gemma and Hugh Sinclair. They meet to discuss and have one brief physical encounter that ends when Mr Sinclair declares, "This time it will be different." (Or something like that; I no longer have the book to check the quote.) The impetus to marry seems to be so that they can carry on this relationship in London, where Sinclair does business, without scandal. The relationship is unbelievable to me. Furthermore, although having one's crazy wife locked in the attic and attempting to commit bigamy is a difficult closet-dwelling skeleton to top, the secret Sinclair is hiding really seems like a lot of nothing to me.

In summary, there's not much this book brings to the "Jane Eyre" experience, and there are some uncomfortable added moments I could do without.
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524 reviews63 followers
July 23, 2012
This was a completely satisfactory book. Just not a stand-out.

I must admit I went into this book with low expectations, but it had been recommended in so many recent book lists, magazines and blogs that when I saw the book CDs at the library, I pounced. (Especially since, in my library, getting a book CD that is less than 10 years old is a minor miracle.) Anyway, all of these referrals compared it to "Jane Eyre" which is a book I have never read, and don't really want to, but which comparison, I suspect, rings a dinner bell for many readers. The good news (for me at least) is that I did not find much Jane Eyre-ish-ness in this book. Well, at least no crazy first wife in the attic (sorry- I should have said "spoiler alert" - but, really?!)

Gemma Hardy's childhood is less than ideal - dead parents, mean aunt, servitude, penury...so when she ends up at a country estate as an au pair to the niece of a handsome single millionaire, you think, 'Aha! I see where this is going!' But actually, it does not really go there - loads more stuff happens in all sorts of unexpected, non-Jane-Eyre-ish ways before Gemma finds her true love. Again, I don't think it requires a spoiler alert to tell you possible readers that this book does have a reasonably happy ending - just not, perhaps, in the way you might expect.

So, because of the plot not going where I thought it would, it earned my respect and three stars. But frankly, the plot is more than a little bit contrived, and the ending seems very slapdash and pasted on. Also, I don't need a lesson about homosexuality not being a sin but that gets stuffed in there too. Many times Gemma behaves in ways that make no sense (wait, maybe that is the contrived plot point, sorry to be repeating myself).

Here's what is kind of funny: This book is set in the late 50s/early 60s but it makes that time period sound like the 1750s! Is the 1960s that long ago that a book set then can be considered historical fiction? Hmmmm. Wow, that is making me a little sad!
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