The Flight of Gemma Hardy is my first venture into the books by Margot Livesey. I developed an interest in picking this book up when I discovered that it was a retelling of Jane Eyre, one of my all time favourite books. I was thrilled to acquire an ARC early and dive in. Sadly to say, the book is mediocre and not great like I wanted it to be. I’m disappointed.
*There may be Jane Eyre spoilers ahead, for those who have not read Bronte. You have been warned.
Ostensibly, the book follows the Jane Eyre formula to the letter, except that it’s set in Scotland during the 1960’s. We follow the young orphaned Gemma from one path of life to another as she goes through awful situations again and again. She believes she’s cursed. She flits from her home life with her Aunt, who despises her, to a school called Claypoole, where she is mistreated and overworked, to a position as an Au pair in the Orkneys. It is here that she meets Sinclair, the “Rochester” character in this book… and, of course, the two fall in love. What happens when Livesey “reveals” Sinclair’s shame, though, is where the book started going downhill for me. This plot in Jane Eyre is one of my favourite plot twists in a book. Ever. I couldn’t wait to see what someone else did with it.
Let’s just say I was unimpressed with Livesey’s twist and move on.
From here the book gets, well, dull. I think Livesey focused too much on this part of the story instead of the build up, and this is the part of Jane Eyre that very little time is spent on to begin with. It felt… stretched. I was a little bored. This is not the exciting part of the original book and, frankly, I found little about Gemma’s trials at this point in the narrative to bond with her over. I just was waiting to see how a few more plot points were resolved, which didn’t do as much for me as I had hoped they would. I was underwhelmed by everything about the ending. It just did not have the impact I wanted from it.
Such a shame, really… it doesn’t do any credit to its predecessor. I was excited to see what Livesey would do to tie the culture of the 60’s into the book and was disappointed. Were it not for the cars she frequently mentioned I felt like it was in a similar time period as the setting of the Bronte novel. This, to me, implies that the attempt to make the novel “different” from the other failed. And that means that this novel is unnecessary.
2 out of 5 stars. The beginning wasn’t bad. However, if you have any real interest, you should just read Jane Eyre.
* The Flight of Gemma Hardy releases January 24, 2012.