Book Review: The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot LiveseyThis book is a (relatively) modern-day retelling of the Jane Eyre story, taking place in the 1950s.

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!

Rating: 4.5/5

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

Book Review: Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

Kitchen by Banana YoshimotoSeveral of my blog friends have read this book and I was curious to read it for myself. I’m not really into short stories, but this book, at 140 pages, only has 3 stories, of which one is the continuation of the previous one. So, while not novel-length, the stories are not really very short.

I found this book in a discount bookstore.

Kitchen: What it is about

The book contains 3 stories, of which the first two, Kitchen and Full Moon (Kitchen 2) are linked. The third story, Moonlight Shadow, is a completely separate story.

In Kitchen, Mikage is a young woman who needs a new home after her grandmother, with whom she lived, dies. Yuichi is a slightly younger man who helped her with the funeral and he offers her a place at his and his mother’s house. Mikage accepts and moves in with them.

She admires Yuichi’s mother, who works in a night club, and is very surprised when she finds out that Yuichi’s mother used to be Yuichi’s father, but has been living as a woman since Yuichi’s mother died. She’s an intriguing person and Mikage quickly feels at home.

I don’t want to say too much about what happens in the second story as it is a continuation of the first one, but takes place a few months or so later. This story concentrates on Mikage and Yuichi and how they support each other and develop further feelings for each other.

In the third story, a young woman called Satsuki has lost her lover Hitoshi. Together with Hitoshi’s brother Hiiragi, who lost his girlfriend at the same time (Hitoshi and the girlfriend were in a car accident together) she tries to find a way to deal with the loss. A stranger helps her in a supernatural way.

Kitchen: What I thought

The stories are about loss of a loved one and how people deal with it. There is quite a bit of eating going on, usually to lift people’s moods.

The writing style reminds me of Haruki Murakami’s books. Whether it’s a particular Japanese way of writing or whether it’s the way the books are translated, I’m not sure. I like it, but I never got drawn into the stories and I did not get attached to the main characters – the first two stories were long enough that you may have expected that to happen.

In both stories (Kitchen and Moonlight Shadow) there is a cross-dresser who plays a large role in the story. I have read Yoshimoto’s Goodbye, Tsugumi in which Tsugumi has a disease and has been expected to die since she was young, so the theme of death is there too, but no cross-dressers as far as I can remember.

I liked Kitchen better than Goodbye Tsugumi but not as much as I had hoped. I think I will still try her newest book, The Lake, when I can get hold of a copy.

Rating: 4/5

I got this book: bought it at a book store

I read this in: Dutch, the original language is Japanese

Number of pages: 142

First published: 1993 (Dutch edition; Japanese edition 1988, Kitchin)

Genre: short stories

Book Review: Don’t Look Now by Daphne du Maurier

Don't Look Now by Daphne du Maurier

I’ll admit it: I got this book because of its cover. No, not quite: I took this book off the library shelf because I was attracted to the cover, but when I saw the book contained short stories by Daphne du Maurier, I wanted to borrow it straight away.

I’ve read several books by du Maurier, which I have enjoyed a lot. I am not a short story reader, but sometimes I do give it a try. And with this first sentence, it sounded pretty good: “‘Don’t look now’, John said to his wife., ”but there are a couple of old girls two tables away who are trying to hypnotise me.'”

Of course, I had to try the book. I loved all stories except for one, that I found rather boring.

Don’t Look Now: What it is about

The book contains 5 short stories, all about 50 pages long. In some of them, there is an element of the supernatural, which make the stories very interesting.

All stories are about people in a (for them) foreign place: either they are on holiday, or they are transferred to a different location by their boss.

The first story, Don’t Look Now takes place in Venice, where a couple on holiday run into a pair of strange twins. The woman likes them but the man mistrusts them, especially when his wife becomes quite obsessed with them.

In the second story, Not After Midnight, a teacher is taking a holiday in Greece to spend his day painting the landscape. But he gets involved with his hotel neighbours, a very loud American man and his timid wife. But who is really in charge there?

In the third story, A Border-Line Case, a young woman plans to visit a friend of her deceased father, but is kidnapped by him before she has a chance to tell who she is.

The fourth story was the one I found boring, The Way of the Cross, about a group of holiday makers who visit Jerusalem. A young boy tries to reconstruct how and where Jesus would have walked with his cross and meanwhile, some of his party are having mishaps.

The Breakthrough, the final story, was interesting again,  with a man being sent by his boss to work at a different location. There he finds that some very strange experiments are taking place involving the discovery of what happens with the soul when people die.

Don’t Look Now: What I thought

I read about one story a day. The first three all had a very interesting, and unexpected ending, where I was a little take aback (but in a good way). The stories were well built-up and felt a bit like Roald Dahl’s stories but more subtle (although  I must admit I haven’t read him for  a long time).

The stories were long enough to be interesting even for people like me, who tend not to read short stories. Reading this book has definitely encouraged me to try other short stories in future.

Rating: 4/5

I got this book: from the library

I read this in: English

Number of pages: 274

First published: 1973 (as: Not After Midnight and Other Stories)

Genre: Short stories

Book Review: Garden Spells by Sarah Allen

Garden Spells by Sarah AllenThis was a book for my real-life book group. It is not a standard reading group book, and if I’m honest, there is not all that much to discuss about it. But we wanted an easy read in the busy month of December and that’s what this was!

Garden Spells: What it is about

Sydney Waverly escapes her marriage to David by climbing out of the window, so her neighbour can’t raise the alarm and call David, who is on a business trip. She takes her daughter Bay with her and drives across country back to her childhood home, where her sister Claire is still living.

Claire is a caterer and uses the flowers and herbs from her garden in her meals, as they are said to have special powers. Sydney stays with Claire and helps her with her business. Her former high school boyfriend and his wife think she’s returned to come and steal him away. However, Claire only wants a quiet life.

There is the constant worry that David will find out where she went. Meanwhile Claire is making meals with ingredients that should keep her new neighbour Tyler away from her (Claire), but he seems to be resistant!

Garden Spells: What I thought

This was a fun and easy to read book. I finished it in one day (a lot on a train journey and then the rest in the evening).

It was fun to read about the sisters, who are drawn to each other although they are slightly mistrustful of each other after not having seen each other for a long time.

There were a few men in the book, such as the old boyfriend, the neighbour, and one or two others, and they served only as love objects for the sisters (or decoys for the reader). That was a bit too obvious, but they were great guys and it made a fun story.

I liked it that the magic was very subtle. Most of the time, what happened could be explained away in other ways, so there was no waving with wands or calling out spells.

What I liked a lot was an old aunt who’d come by with objects that no one needed but they would accept graciously. Then, a few days later, they’d find that they really needed that object for something important. This happened several times.

In all, a fun and easy book to read, with some magic and romance.

Rating: 4/5

I got this book: from the library

I read this in: Dutch (Liefdeskunsten, the original language is English)

Number of pages: 270

First published: 2007

Genre: women’s fiction, contemporary fiction, magic realism

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