≡ Menu

Review: ‘The Flight of Gemma Hardy’ by Margot Livesey

Review: ‘The Flight of Gemma Hardy’ by Margot Livesey post image

Title: The Flight of Gemma Hardy
Author: Margot Livesey
Genre: Fiction
Year: 2012
Acquired: From the publisher for review consideration
Rating: ★★★★☆

Review: Writing a book based on a book as beloved and well-known as Jane Eyre is no easy task. Although it’s been several years since I read Jane Eyre, I went into Margot Livesey’s The Flight of Gemma Hardy with high expectations, wondering both how Livesey would honor the original book while still writing something new and original.

Having finished, I think it’s safe to say that while Livesey’s book closely follows the original plot through much of the beginning of the book, she is able to use a new time and setting to transport the spirit of Jane Eyre — strong-willed, feisty, passionate and serious — to a story that both honors and updates the original.

The first section of the book follows the plot of Jane Eyre almost exactly — a young orphan lives with her aunt and uncle after her parents die unexpectedly. When the orphan’s uncle dies, her nasty aunt and cousins treat her terribly until she is able to fine her way to an all-girls school. In Jane Eyre, Jane is a student; in Gemma Hardy, Gemma is a charity case, forced to work for the school in exchange for her education. Eventually, the young woman takes a job as a governess/teacher for a spirited little girl living with her mysterious guardian. A romance begins…

What’s most interesting in reading the book, at least for me with my cursory memory of Jane Eyre, is the way that taking the Jane/Gemma character and putting her in a time when women were starting to have rights and expectations for themselves changes the story. One of the things that always gave me pause with Jane is that, although she does have the power to make her own choices, those choices are so limited as to almost be no choices at all. Jane’s romance with Rochester has always been troubling for me too. I know so people find Rochester deeply romantic, but I always found him manipulative and selfish. I never felt entirely happy with Jane’s decision about him, even though I was happy that Jane was able to find what she wanted in the end of the story.

But Gemma, living about 100 years later, has many more options than Jane ever had — even when her situation seems most dire. Gemma’s romance with Hugh Sinclair doesn’t feel like an option of last resort, but a genuine partnership between equals. Both Gemma and Sinclair grow during the novel, and by the end when Gemma is given a choice of lives to pursue, she does almost have the choice to “have it all” in the most modern sense of the phrase.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy certainly isn’t a replacement for Jane Eyre. And while I don’t think it’s necessary to have read Jane Eyre to really enjoy this story — which does stand on it’s own as a convincing and lovely coming-of-age story — a knowledge of the original does give the book a little deeper reading. The evocative setting and plucky heroine of the book make it a great story to curl up with during one of these last cold days of winter.

Other Reviews:

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Anna March 1, 2012, 7:39 am

    I’m waiting for this to come in at the library, so I’m glad to see you enjoyed it. I haven’t read Jane Eyre since college, so it’s about time I re-read it. Glad to know I don’t have to remember the book to enjoy this one!

    • Kim March 3, 2012, 1:04 pm

      No, I don’t think it’s necessary at all. In fact, that might be better. During the first part of the book, I couldn’t help comparing it back to the original so much that it was almost distracting.

  • Jenna (Literature and a Lens) March 1, 2012, 9:46 am

    I’ve been intrigued by this book since I first read about it. I’m glad you found it enjoyable as so many books that build their foundation on plots of classics tend to be a letdown for me. The idea that the main character actually has choices is a nice twist.

    • Kim March 3, 2012, 1:05 pm

      Yeah, it can be a really hard trick to pull off. Some authors do it a lot better than others. I really loved the way updating the time period changed the dynamics of the relationships in the book in a cool way.

  • Steph March 1, 2012, 10:50 am

    Wonderful review! While browsing through my library’s ebook collection yesterday I noticed they had a copy of this one and I thought it seemed intriguing… but I am generally very wary of modern books that attempt to capitalize on classic novels, so it was great to hear that you felt Livesey was able to enrich the original by updating it.

    And onto the wish list it goes!

    • Kim March 3, 2012, 1:06 pm

      Fantastic! I definitely wouldn’t think of this as a replacement for Jane Eyre, but it’s a lovely update. I think the character of Gemma is very much like Jane, who is a character that I’ve always loved.

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) March 1, 2012, 4:50 pm

    I’ve never read Jane Eyre and think this might be a good introduction to that book for me.

    • Kim March 3, 2012, 1:07 pm

      I think it would definitely give you a sense of who Jane is, through Gemma, and what some of the themes of the book are. Some of the subtle ties to the original would be missed, but I don’t think that takes away from the book.

  • Amanda March 2, 2012, 7:15 am

    I do love Jane Eyre so much, and I really really adore Rochester (I saw him as the only person who treated Jane as an equal, not as manipulative), so I worry about this book. Several reviews have really intrigued me, though, so I have my eye out for it at the library.

    • Kim March 3, 2012, 1:09 pm

      I think by the end that’s true, but the parts in the middle (when Jane first meets him, and the part dressing up as a gypsy, that sort of thing) have always rubbed me the wrong way. But I haven’t read the book in a long time, and I do think it’s one where your interpretations of what happens changes with age and experience.

  • Buried In Print March 2, 2012, 11:11 am

    Interesting! I’ve never read one of her novels, but I’ve considered doing so many times. I just recently re-read Elizabeth Taylor’s Palladian which is something of a satirical take on Jane Eyre, with a nod to Austen’s Northanger Abbey (satirical in the way that Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm is satirical, but can also be read and enjoyed without really knowing that). I love it when books interconnect like this, and quite often it leads me back to the original works too.

    • Kim March 3, 2012, 1:10 pm

      Yes, same here. I have a whole list of classics I want to read or reread after finding them in more contemporary books. I think this book is much more of a homage to Jane Eyre than a book that challenges the original, but I think there’s space for both kinds of contemporary books, you know?

  • Kailana March 3, 2012, 12:32 pm

    I have been curious about this book since it came out. I will probably give it a try at some point because I think I saw it in my library catalogue while looking for something else. Great review!

    • Kim March 3, 2012, 1:11 pm

      I hope you get a chance to read it and enjoy it!