Friday, January 18, 2013

Review: The Flight of Gemma Hardy

The Flight of Gemma Hardy, by Margot Livesey. The GoodReads summary:
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.
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

1 comment:

  1. Aw. So sad this wasn't done better! From what you've said about the parts you didn't like and why you didn't like them, I don't think this retelling is for me. I ADORE Jane & Rochester and I don't know if I'd be able to read this without judging. Heh. I definitely want to check out Jane by April Lindner! There's been quite a few Jane Eyre retellings recently but I haven't read any yet!


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