The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey is a retelling of Jane Eyre. You remember Jane Eyre, right? If no, let me catch you up real quick: Jane is orphaned, abused by terrible aunt and cousins, sent away for being a normal and not a sociopath therefore does not fit in to her family, shitty boarding school where more terrible people do more terrible things to her, only friend on earth dies, becomes a governess to a little girl, little girl’s uncle Mr. Rochester plays mind games with her because he’s a tortured soul we are supposed to find sympathetic and Darcy-ish but we do not, falls in love with emotional cripple Mr. Rochester because she has no healthy relationships in her life to emulate, big secret reveal, leaves his ass, comes back for some reason, happily ever after. Uplifting tale of terribleness I guess? Anyway, I’m clearly not the biggest fan of the book that everyone I know cites as their all-time favorite.
So I guess the real question is, if Jane Eyre bums me out so much why the hell would I read an homage to it? I have no answers for you, sometimes I do dumb things, but it turns out that I kind of liked it so I’m glad I did.
Gemma Hardy is also an orphan. She lives in Iceland, and her mother dies when she is a baby. Then her fisherman father drowns a few years later and she is sent to Scotland to live with her very nice uncle and the aforementioned terrible aunt. Of course her uncle dies soon after because good things cannot happen to our plucky heroine. She is then sent to a boarding school for juvenile delinquents, I think, called Claypoole, where she is treated to a lousy education in exchange for backbreaking unpaid labor.
Eventually the school goes bankrupt and she is mostly grown up, or at least lying about it, so she can get a job and she finds one as a governess in the Orkney Islands. As always, place is important to me as a reader and I enjoyed the descriptions of both Iceland and the Orkney Islands. Gemma is now working for Mr. Sinclair, who is less broodily difficult and never as cruel as Mr. Rochester. The niece is pretty cute and her life gets a little better.
There is passion and betrayal but no crazy wife in an attic, thank god. The timeframe of the 1950’s and 60’s works well for this story, and the updates made sense. Gemma is more blatant about her impertinence than Jane was, and she’s less willing to be a martyr and I appreciated that. The writing here is descriptive and bold and the characters are vivid. The ending was a little disappointing, but overall I think it was a good update and I recommend it. Would love to hear how a Jane Eyre devotee feels about it.
Grade – B