March 15, 2012

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey: Review

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Remember the plot of Jane Eyre, orphan girl with mean aunt gets sent away to school where some bad stuff happens, then she becomes a teacher to another orphan girl, falls in love with her boss, tries to get married, more bad stuff happens, she runs away and finds some relatives? Good. Now you know the plot of The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey. Only in this story Gemma is a girl living in 1950's Scotland.

Now, if you know anything at all about me, you know I love Jane Eyre. I spent a large part of last spring re-reading and posting about it. So, I was curious about The Flight of Gemma Hardy. It's not the first time a writer has been 'inspired' by the book. Daphne du Maurier took a swing at it with Rebecca which became a classic in its own right. However, instead of borrowing bits of the story, Livesey has taken the whole plot. This didn't really bother me much until later in the novel when Gemma meets Mr Sinclair. 

Here's my issue. I never really felt a bond between Gemma and Sinclair, not anything like Jane and Rochester. Gemma is more immature than Jane, even though they are the same age at this point in the plot. The men are much older but it seems a lot ickier in the case of Gemma. Jane is completely alone in the world; Gemma has a small circle of friends. Being alone makes the relationship between Jane and Rochester possible because they are thrown together and as intellectual equals build a relationship. Jane and Rochester are two halves of a whole, they have a connection. I didn't feel that with Gemma and Sinclair. When his 'big secret' is revealed, I thought Gemma's reaction was overkill. Was running away without telling anyone what she was planning really necessary? I don't think so.

The thing is I really enjoyed so much of The Flight of Gemma Hardy was when it wasn't being shoved into the plot of Jane Eyre. I loved Gemma's desire for an education and her determination to find out what happened to her parents. The writing is lovely and the sense of place, whether the Orkney Islands or Iceland, is enjoyable. Gemma's friends interested me more than Mr Sinclair ever did. 

Gemma herself often frustrated me, especially near the end. For a girl who wants so badly to have friends and a home, I don't know how she could so easily run off (again) the way she did. She has issues with communication. She's not terribly reliable either. Birds as a symbol crop up time and again. Gemma is a bird but she is no Jane, as Jane herself says: "I am no bird; and no net ensnares me." 

It's hard for me to judge The Flight of Gemma Hardy. If it could be thrown in a centrifuge and separated into two books, I'd be happy. 

Big thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours who went out of her way to make sure The Flight of Gemma Hardy got to me. Check out the tour info page for more dates on the tour.

Ratings:

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17 comments :

  1. I felt so much the same way: the things I liked best about Gemma were the things that had nothing to do with Jane Eyre. The setting, the folklore, the family history--I wish there had been more of that! Still, I think Livesey's writing is amazing, so I'll give her a pass. :)

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    1. I writing was very nice. I'd like to try something else by her.

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  2. I agree. The first part where Gemma is in school is way over-the-top, but I enjoyed it more because it seemed like the story the author wanted to tell. Once Gemma met Rochester--I mean, Sinclair--the book lost me.

    Another major issue I had with the novel was that Gemma lies and steals to get what she wants, when what she was pursuing didn't seem that urgent or pressing to me. Jane is an admirable character because never compromises herself, even when doing so would be much easier on her and would get her what she wants. Because of that, the idea that Gemma is a modern-day Jane Eyre kind of infuriates me.

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    1. That bothered me too. I didn't understand it at all. It was jarring.

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  3. I've never read Jane Eyre, and thought this might be a good introduction to it.

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    1. Jane Eyre is so good! Start with that. :)

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  4. I've not read JE but I don't like it when books use a classic as inspiration. The classic is always better anyway.

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    1. The classic is always better but some of those 'inspired by' books can be good on their own.

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  5. That's too bad you didn't like this a bit more. I have been curious about it for a while and will probably still check it out at some time.

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  6. I have this one on hold from the library, but I'm very scared of it. Either I'll love it - not likely, given how much I love Jane Eyre - or I'll hate it and abandon it. Still, I'm willing to give it a chance.

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  7. "If it could be thrown in a centrifuge and separated into two books, I'd be happy." Ha! I love that! I'm sorry this didn't turn out to be a perfect book for you but I'm glad that there were things about it that you really did enjoy.

    Thanks for being on the tour.

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    1. There definitely were parts I enjoyed about the book. Thanks!

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  8. I haven't really felt too much pull to try this one. Not sure why since I really enjoyed Jane Eyre and it's one of those classics I want to re-read. Maybe I need to do the re-reading before I get in the mood for this one.

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    1. Re-read Jane, Andi! You won't regret it.

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  9. Oh, now I'm torn. It sounds like fans of Jane Eyre are utterly divided on this one. There is a part of me that definitely wants to read it, but perhaps I won't rush right out and get it to do so.

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