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20 February 2012

The Flight of Gemma Hardy, by Margot Livesey


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.

Others said (if you aren't on the TLC tour and I've missed your review, let me know so I can add here):

Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication Date: 1/24/2012
Pages: 447
Do you want my copy of the advanced reader's edition? The first reader who comments with their email address will receive confirmation from me, and then will receive the book in the mail within three weeks.
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.

Visit the author:
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.

25 comments:

  1. Reading your summary, I was thinking "This sounds a lot like Jane Eyre!". I read Jane for the first time last year and loved it, so I am sure I would like this retelling of it.

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    1. It is a wonderfully updated retelling of Jane Eyre, so I hope you enjoy!

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  2. I've never read Jane Eyre - this might be a good introduction for me.

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    1. This would be a fun book to read, whether if you've read Jane Eyre or not. Die-hard Jane Eyre fans may enjoy, but those who haven't read Jane Eyre will probably really enjoy it!

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  3. Glad you enjoyed it as much as I did!

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    1. I loved the setting of this and thought Margot Livesey's writing was a treat! And there are more of her books to read!

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  4. I am really looking forward to this book!

    nisethusfarAYyahooDOTcom

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    1. You're the first to post your email address, so I will connect with you to get your mailing address and get it out to you!

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  5. This sounds really good. And I know what you mean about the comparisons to the classics. I only read part of Jane Eyre and that was in high school so I'm sure I'd appreciate this one. I hadn't paid much attention to this because I thought it was YA (nothing wrong with that, I just don't read much YA anymore) but I guess it's not, LOL.

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    1. You know, I think it actually might be listed as YA, but I'm not sure. It could definitely be considered as YA, but I think it's definitely readers of all ages would enjoy. I hope you get a chance to read it and I hope you like it!

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  6. Jane Eyre is a long-time favorite, but, like you, I haven't re-read it recently so "The Flight of Gemma Hardy" holds great appeal, so much so, I just downloaded a sample. I usually buy samples so thank you for this review.

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    1. Oh, I hope you enjoy it! Can't wait to read what you think of it!

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  7. I completely agree! We said pretty much the same things in our reviews. I kept picturing Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith from Downton Abbey) as Gemma.

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    1. Thanks for the tweet, just saw it! This was a wonderful story and it definitely stands on its own. Your review was definitely much more insightful and provided a lot of food for thought! II think my favorite character, next to Gemma, may have been the characters in the latter part of the novel that she met in Iceland. Very quirky and I would have liked more with them!

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  8. You've convinced me I need to read this one!

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    1. Yes, do! Let me know what you think when you get a chance, I'd be really interested to see what you think of it. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and got really pulled into it all.

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  9. I have been hearing a lot about this book, and wonder what I would make of it since Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books of all time. I think the fact that it's not a carbon copy is promising for me, and it sounds that even though the stories are loosely related, they are very different stories at the heart of things. This was a wonderful review today, Natalie, and makes me want to go out and grab this book when I can. It sounds excellent, and like something I would enjoy.

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  10. Normally I might shy away from a "retelling," but I know Margot Livesey is a good writer, so this one sounds much more appealing. Your review makes it sound even better! Thanks for recommending it.

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  11. I love Jane Eyre but haven't read it in a long time. I've been thinking about rereading it but your enjoyment of this book and fantastic review has me thinking that I want to read The Flight of Gemma Hardy before I read Jane Eyre again. Something about Gemma's character, something I've read in a few reviews has hooked me on her. I don't know what it is but she interests me. I'm also curious if anyone at Claypoole does any work besides Gemma, she sounds like the cook, maid and housekeeper all by herself! I also want to read this book because it isn't a retelling of Jane Eyre but it only loosely based on it.
    Thank you :o)

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  12. I've wondered about this book. Thanks for sharing your lovely review! :)

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  13. I can't wait to get my hands on this one! I'm also glad to see that though it is a chunskter, it is also a quick read.

    Thank for being on the tour Natalie.

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  14. This sounds like a great take on the old classic! Jane Eyre is one of my favorites so I can't imagine why I wouldn't love this one too.

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  15. Jane Eyre was a great read for me, and I can see by your review that this one would be one as well! Thanks so much for putting it on my list!

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  16. It's been years since I read Jane Eyre. This sounds great and I love all the settings, etc. Plus the name Gemma is one of my favs. Thanks for the recommendation and excellent review :)

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  17. Fantastic review. I've been considering this one on audio.

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