Title - The Flight of Gemma Hardy
Author - Margot Livesey
Publisher - Harper Perrenial
Date Published - 2012
# of pages - 443
When her widower father drowns at sea, Gemma Hardy is taken from her native Iceland to Scotland to live with her kind uncle and his family. But the death of her doting guardian leaves Gemma under the care of her resentful aunt, and it soon becomes clear that she is nothing more than an unwelcome guest at Yew House. When she receives a scholarship to a private school, ten-year-old Gemma believes she's found the perfect solution and eagerly sets out again to a new home. However, at Claypoole she finds herself treated as an unpaid servant.
To Gemma's delight, the school goes bankrupt, and she takes a job as an au pair on the Orkney Islands. The remote Blackbird Hall belongs to Mr. Sinclair, a London businessman; his eight-year-old niece is Gemma's charge. Even before their first meeting, Gemma is, like everyone on the island, intrigued by Mr. Sinclair. Rich (by Gemma's standards), single, flying in from London when he pleases, Hugh Sinclair fills the house with life. An unlikely couple, the two are drawn to each other, but Gemma's biggest trial is about to begin: a journey of passion and betrayal, redemption and discovery, that will lead her to a life of which she's never dreamed.
Set in Scotland and Iceland in the 1950s and '60s, "The Flight of Gemma Hardy"--a captivating homage to Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre"--is a sweeping saga that resurrects the timeless themes of the original but is destined to become a classic all its own.
At the back of this book, Margot Livesey explains some of her inspiration for her story. Coupled with a love of Jane Eyre at an early age and a life that she couldn't help but compare to Jane herself, she set out to pay homage to not only the master herself - Charlotte Bronte - but her own life as well. If I had known this before I started reading I may have read the story with a much different perspective. As it was I couldn't help but to see the resemblace of Gemma's life to Jane's during every step of her journey.
I'm a huge fan of Jane Eyre and have tried to read retellings in the past without success but I found 1960s Scotland to be the perfect setting and Gemma to be the perfect character for this one. Scotland made the story fresh and exciting. There are enough cultural differences to make the story interesting and yet the setting (rolling hills, old buildings, small towns) kept the difference from feeling jarring as these things too are in Jane's story.
Now, the story wasn't too much like Jane's. Things are changed here and there and if you think you know the ending, think again. My favourite part of this story was actually the ending, which I don't say too often. Gemma herself has a fascinating background, one with a bit of mystery to it that kept me reading to find out more about her.
The writing was beautiful and every sentence was filled with so much meaning that I had no trouble dragging this read out for weeks and dwelling on the story. I haven't been able to really immerse myself in a story like that in a long time, which felt very satisfying to me. I'm glad I had the chance to read it and would recommend to not only Jane Eyre fans but to anyone who likes a book with a lot of substance to it.
Disclaimer: I borrowed my copy.
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