Book Review: The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey
January 24, 2012 13 Comments
As I’m not a Jane Eyre die-hard, I was firstly quite tolerant about the variations that were made to the original story, and secondly, not always aware of what the next step in the story should be so I could read it without too many pre-conceptions.
The cover suggests YA but this is definitely a book for adults too. It’s for anyone who likes or loves the story of Jane Eyre.
The Flight of Gemma Hardy: What it is about
It’s the 1950s in Scotland. Gemma Hardy grows up with her uncle’s family, after her parents (Scottish mother and Icelandic father) die when she’s still very young. But when her uncle dies her aunt sends her to boarding school at the age of ten. She’s there as a ‘working girl’, which means she has to do household chores before and after (and sometimes during) school hours.
She has very few friends at the school and generally has an awful time there. When she’s 18, she applies to become an au pair for a family on the Orkney Islands, in the far north of Scotland, and so, this is where she goes.
If you know the Jane Eyre story, you can guess the sort of events that will happen. If not, then I’ve almost given you too much information already, so I’ll let you enjoy the book for yourself.
The Flight of Gemma Hardy: What I thought
4.5 out of 5 stars I had to look up the Jane Eyre story to see how Gemma Hardy compares with it. The general storyline is very similar, but the ending is different. I didn’t remember Jane Eyre well enough to predict how the story would continue, which was actually quite nice: something would happen and I would think: ‘Oh, that’s right’; there were moments of recognition. But because I didn’t remember the original story too well, I didn’t actively look for certain things to happen. I wonder how other readers, with a better memory of Jane Eyre will feel about the story.
The story taking place in the 1950s and 1960s was interesting, but it often didn’t feel as if the story was taking place in the 20th Century. Some of the situations, especially the boarding school, were decidedly Dickensian. The novel wasn’t strongly set in the mid-20th Century. The beginning of the book, before Gemma’s flight, could generally have taken place 200 years earlier too. Only later, when there are buses and aeroplanes, the sense of being in a recent century becomes stronger.
I liked the connection with Iceland, a country that I always find fascinating to read about. And Gemma spends some time on the Orkneys islands above Scotland, which appeals too: it’s rough, cold, small-townish, and scenic.
Strangely enough (but not after I checked the Jane Eyre story) there are a few supernatural moments in this novel. I found them too few to call this a supernatural novel, but I would have liked the author to be a bit more firm on this matter: either there are supernatural events and then they are used in equal amounts throughout the book, or there aren’t. But just one or two here and there, it didn’t make sense. Maybe it does in the context of the Jane Eyre book, where there was also just a little bit of the supernatural. But there it didn’t bother me, whereas in Gemma Hardy, it seemed a little odd.
Another weaker point in the book is that the events after Gemma’s flight where much shorter in time than the rest of the book, which felt a bit rushed. She went several places in quick succession (in terms of pages in the book) and the pace was so much faster than the earlier parts of the book, that it didn’t seem the same book almost.
But, notwithstanding these comments, I had a great time reading this book. I liked Gemma’s dire situation, and how she fought for a better life, and I also liked discovering parallels to Jane Eyre. If you’re a Jane Eyre fan, you may find this book too similar, maybe. Let me know!
I got this book: ARC from the publishers, Harper, for review
I read this in: English, the original language
Number of pages: 464
First published: 2012 (January)
Genre: contemporary fiction, coming of age