It is the early 1960s and Gemma Hardy has already lost her parents, when she lived in Iceland as a toddler, and now her beloved uncle, who moved her to live with him and his family in Scotland. Upon his death, Gemma's horrid aunt decides to send her to a boarding school, Claypoole, and it is there that Gemma spends the next seven years of her life as a student and "working girl." In order to maintain her studies, room and board, Gemma is at the mercy of the school. She sweeps, mops, preps the kitchen food, feeds the animals and more. Needless to say, it's a challenge to be treated equally, although she is one of the brightest pupils. With a daily fear of being bullied by other working girls, Gemma's only source of happiness comes in her love of birds, studying and reading, and her only friend, Miriam.
When the doors of Claypoole abruptly close before Gemma sits for university exams, she is hired as a nanny to Mr. Sinclair's niece, Nell, a ragged, wild child who has never had formal instruction or true guidance. The arrangement brings Gemma and Mr. Sinclair close and a romance develops, but it's not until a disappointing fall out occurs, separating her from Mr. Sinclair, that Gemma's adventure on learning who she truly is begins.
Traveling from Yew House to Claypoole, to Blackbird Hall in the Orkneys, to Iceland, The Flight of Gemma Hardy is a unique retelling of Jane Eyre, and was an extremely satisfying read.
This updated retelling of Bronte's Jane Eyre worked so well for me. It's been years since I read Jane Eyre (so long it would feel like a completely new book if I revisited it), and I considered if that's why I enjoyed this book so very much. Normally, a retelling of a classic brings constant comparisons, but the story and writing were thoroughly satisfying and absorbing. Although The Flight of Gemma Hardy followed the basic map of Jane's life (orphan, boarding school, mean aunt, being a nanny/governess), it was loosely connected so it never quite felt as though you could predict what would happen next. Several areas creatively twisted differently from the classic tale, keeping it fresh and unique. With Gemma traveling from Orkney to be a nanny, stumbling through small towns to develop new friends in the Scottish countryside, and even to Iceland, Gemma's feisty personality continues to persevere even throughout each event of bad luck and sadness. Setting this in the 1960s in Scotland was a brilliant choice: it maintained the feeling of a different time, while combining a romantic and Gothic feel of different lands, seas, and hillsides. Beautifully descriptive, Livesey successfully retells the timeless classic, updating it with a vintage flair.
I spent a delightfully rainy Sunday reading this chunkster of a book and loved it. While it may follow a similar path of Jane Eyre, it easily is its own story and those who haven't read Jane Eyre may appreciate it even more.
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Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication Date: 1/24/2012
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About the Author
Margot Livesey grew up in a boys' private school in the Scottish Highlands where her father taught and her mother, Eva, was the school nurse. After taking a B.A. in English and philosophy at the University of York in England she spent most of her twenties working in shops and restaurants and learning to write. Her first book, a collection of stories called Learning by Heart, was published by Penguin Canada in 1986. Since then Margot has published six novels: Homework, Criminals, The Missing World, Eva Moves the Furniture, Banishing Verona and The House on Fortune Street. Her seventh novel, The Flight of Gemma Hardy, will be released in February 2012.
Margot is currently a distinguished writer in residence at Emerson College. She lives with her husband, a painter, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and goes back to London and Scotland whenever she can.
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Many thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me in this tour which goes through the first week of March 2012. To read all of the reviews at each tour stop, click here.