Nancy McKibben's Reviews > The Flight of Gemma Hardy

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey
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bookshelves: historical-fiction, reviewed, romance
Recommended for: Jane Eyre fans, although the second half may disappoint

The Flight of Gemma Hardy
By Margot Livesey

As a longtime fan of Jane Eyre, which I read multiple times as a child, I loved the first third of Livesey’s retelling, which is set in the Scotland of the l950s and 60s. Gemma is the little spitfire she should be, resilient and upright, unbowed at her unfair treatment after her father’s death. Gemma’s step-relatives are sufficiently malicious and distant to let the reader enjoy hating them, and Gemma is sent to a pleasingly terrible boarding school, waking echoes of the Jane of my childhood.

After she graduates from her terrible school, Gemma accepts a position as a governess for a young girl in the Orkney Islands, which make a good substitute for the wild moors of the original book. The little girl is a bit wild, but Gemma wins her over, and I eagerly awaited the arrival of the girl’s uncle, and with it the expected romance.

Alas, Hugh Sinclair is no Mr. Rochester. The story struggles a little at this point for being set in modern times - mere money and a private jet are poor substitutes for a noble title - but I was still disappointed. Nor are there mysterious cries in the night from the demented Mrs. Rochester - oops, I mean Mrs. Sinclair - who is well and truly dead in this retelling.

True to the original Jane Eyre, Gemma eventually flees, but not to a misanthrope like Jane Eyre’s St. John, who begs Jane to marry him so he will have a partner in the mission field. No, instead she ends up with an artsy lesbian couple and a possible romance with the brother, who is a postman. I’m sorry, not a romantic occupation.

Livesey does add a modern element to the story, which redeems it somewhat, as Gemma struggles to find her identity and ends up searching for her relatives in Iceland.

It’s not that the story of the adult Gemma is dull or bad, but knowing that it is supposed to parallel the story of Jane Eyre sets the reader up for expectations that are not fulfilled, mainly in the windswept romance department. Think of Jane Eyre as you read about the child Gemma, and then put it out of your mind as you read about adult Gemma and you may find yourself perfectly happy with Livesey’s efforts.


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Reading Progress

November 7, 2013 – Started Reading
November 8, 2013 – Finished Reading
November 18, 2013 – Shelved
November 18, 2013 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
November 18, 2013 – Shelved as: reviewed
November 18, 2013 – Shelved as: romance

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