The Flight of Gemma Hardy, Margot Livesey

Hooray for modern-day translations of our favorite books! The substance our book obsessions thrive on. I picked up this week’s book, The Flight of Gemma Hardy, mostly on a whim. It is based off of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre which I read many years ago, and though the classic wasn’t a favorite of mine, I enjoyed it and was curious to see how somebody would translate it to 1950’s and 60’s Scotland. Beware of minor spoilers!

It was very clear from the start that Livesey was going to stay pretty close to her inspiration. Her story contains many plot and character parallels, most of them all welcome. Like in Jane Eyre, our heroine is orphaned and after the death of her beloved uncle, left unloved in the world. She is sent to a boarding school where she proves intelligent, though reserved, and remains an outsider. At seventeen she leaves the school to become a governess on the faraway Orkney Islands where she is introduced to Nell, her new charge, and the mysterious Mr. Sinclair, her employer, with whom she eventually falls in love.

I was grateful for how well-written this novel was; a rarity in literary replications, often. Livesey displays a lyrical ability to translate scenery, and I enjoyed the symbolism she uses with birds and water. The novel has a quiet serenity reminiscent of its bleak and moody inspiration; proof that Livesey truly understands the essence of Jane Eyre, despite her inability to recapture the magic of the original. My main beef with her retelling was the lack of gothic drama which makes Bronte’s book so wonderful. Though I was glad Livesey did not got so far as to have a crazy wife in the attic, Gemma’s ‘flight’ is unwarranted, discrediting all the wonderful storytelling thus far.

Livesey unfortunately also fell short in the characters she created. Gemma, despite her childhood abuse, is hard to love, and lacks the moral compass which validated many of Jane Eyre’s tough decisions. I appreciated Gemma’s journey to create a meaningful life on her own, but was still unable to connect with either her or Mr. Sinclair, let alone feel the passion of their love for each other.

Despite these shortcomings, I still enjoyed the novel. Good writing is good writing, and whatever story you get with it is often worth reading. Whether you’ve had the opportunity to read Jane Eyre or not, you can still enjoy this tale about a woman who desired to create her own happiness.

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