Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey

Title: The Flight of Gemma Hardy
Author: Margot Livesey

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Scottish / 1950s / 1960s / Girl's School /
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper (1/24/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Loved!!!!!
Did I finish?: I did -- I couldn't put this book down!
One-sentence summary: Orphan Gemma Hardy seeks out love and family as she bounces from hateful family to boarding school to employment in 1960s Scotland.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I adore it -- it's so atmospheric and pretty -- plus it references a theme in the story, from a sermon Gemma's uncle wrote about islands and rocks connecting people.

I'm reminded of...: Charlotte Brontë, Charlotte Greig

First line: We did not go for a walk on the first day of the year.

Do... I desperately want to vacation in both Scotland and Iceland now?: YES. Place is a character in this novel, nostalgic and moody and atmospheric, and I loved it.

Do... I love that Livesey shared her playlist for this novel?: YES. Sigur Ros and Leonard Cohen (among others) -- yum!

Am... I wicked grateful I have a chance to catch Livesey at a local reading?: YES. I was dead ill while she was touring February, so I'm thrilled I'll get to catch her at the Boston Public Library in a few weeks!

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy! The language is lovely, the story is marvelous, and as an homage to Jane Eyre, it is familiar -- but Livesey also makes Gemma new and wholly hers.

Why did I get this book?: I love orphan girls and boarding schools and was intrigued by the Jane Eyre connection.

Review: The first line of this novel -- We did not go for a walk on the first day of the year. -- echoes that of Charlotte Brontë's classic Jane Eyre -- There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. However, while Livesey's take echoes and mirrors the classic, she has also created an original and appealing heroine that I fell in love with and wanted to have as a friend.

Gemma, like Jane, finds herself an unloved and unwanted outsider in her aunt's home after her beloved uncle dies. Desperate only to connect, to be loved, to be a part of someone's life, Gemma attends a girl's school as a working girl, doing housework and other menial labor to earn her keep. Like Brontë's Jane, Livesey's Gemma has a strong moral compass: Gemma is determined to do what she can for herself, and she has the dogged determinism of a girl who thinks if she just works hard enough, her rewards -- friends, a job, love -- will come in time. (In some ways, I found bits of myself in 10-year old Gemma: goody two-shoes, as she was teased, who just wanted love and learning. I flashed back to 5th grade while reading this whole section!)

Like in Jane Eyre, Gemma takes employment as a governess (or, in this case, an au-pair), and she finds herself in love with her dashing, mysterious employer, Mr. Sinclair. There's a secret, of course, and a panicked flight, and resolution, and while all those elements reflect Jane Eyre, the more contemporary setting and the attitude and mores of 1960s Scotland took the story and the characters in a new direction that I just loved. (Although, I'm ashamed to admit, I didn't wholly buy the romance with Gemma and Mr. Sinclair -- but I also didn't get the romance between Jane and Rochester in Jane Eyre.)

There's a Gothic feel to the novel, with Gemma's hideous girl's school and the despicable Mrs. Bryant, and later, the moodiness of Mr. Sinclair and his past. I don't want to give away the secret of Mr. Sinclair but I appreciated Livesey's handling of this famous twist. I was apprehensive this would get cartoon-y or very into melodramatic gothic, but Livesey was consistent with the mood and the characters.

And the writing. Livesey is just a great writer -- end of story. (Ha, a kind of pun!) The story flowed -- I hesitate to say 'raced', because I didn't feel like I was running so much as caught in the prose -- and I just didn't want to put this book down. I was hanging on every lovely word.

I have to confess, Jane Eyre isn't my favorite Brontë novel, so I didn't anticipate having problems with this novel. I love the 'what if?' feel of Jane Eyre having to navigate her story in an era where women ostensibly have more freedom, where class differences are more and less rigid, and there's greater opportunity for someone to strike out on their own. This would make a marvelous book club selection, not only for its connection with Jane Eyre but also for the themes and moods Livesey employs. This was another book I regretted finishing and that, despite its heft, I wanted to be twice in size just so I could have more time with Gemma Hardy.

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GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Flight of Gemma Hardy to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, ends 3/23. For another chance to win, see my interview with Margot Livesey.

27 comments:

  1. Oh, I so agree. This book was a delight, and for anybody who loves Jane Eyre, reading Gemma Hardy feels like a visit with old friends.

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    1. I'm actually quite eager for an adult reread of JE now -- I'm so excited to see how I feel about it now!

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  2. This is a book that I have been intrigued by, and really want to read. I do have kind of a thing for Jane Eyre, and I am so curious about the differences and similarities between the two books. I am so glad that you loved this one, and am really glad to have read your amazing review today. Your perspective was refreshing and very thoughtful.

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    1. Heather, I had to limit myself -- this is a book in which I really really wish I had a book club to discuss it with! Both for the JE comparisons and for the book on its own discussion -- there are so many lovely images that Livesey uses that echo through the story -- Gemma's interest in birds and her literal 'flight'; her search to connect her island with others, etc. It's a beautiful coming of age novel that has the Gothic elements of JE that I enjoyed. I'd love to know what you think of it if you do get to read it!

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  3. Yes! So glad you loved this book as well. Such a wonderfully delightful feeling reading this book and I can't wait to read more of Margot Livesey's work!

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    1. When my boss saw this on my desk she gasped and started gushing about how marvelous all Livesey's novels are! She spent one summer reading all of them and loved it -- so now I'm super excited to dig in!

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  4. I love books set in Scotland and this one sounds wonderful. I will definitely be reading this one. Thanks for the giveaway!

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  5. I've never read Jane Eyre - this will probably be a good introduction for me. I'm glad the book is so good.

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    1. I liked Gemma more than I liked Jane, although when I told my wife that, she spent an hour arguing with me about why Jane is amazing. :) What I enjoyed about this version is that Bronte's original plot was so inventively re-imagined in the '60s -- it felt gothic-y but not cartoon-y.

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  6. Well I do love Jane Eyre and I wish I had had time to be on this tour. I'd love to read this one.

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    1. I'm so grateful I got a chance to read it -- uh-may-zing!

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  7. I think you have read too many good books lately...I want some too ;)

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    1. It's so true -- I'm on a roll!! :)

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  8. I have got to make time for this one. It looks so good, and I've been meaning to read Livesey for years. I'm glad to hear I'm in for a treat!

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    1. Selfishly, I hope you love it as much as I did. I'm a total Livesey fangirl now and will hopefully get to her previous novels this fall. My boss, when spotting this on my desk, went into swoons about her previous work, so I'm excited!

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  9. I'm not sure this one is for me, but I do love the cover. I still haven't read an Austen yet... I must mark that off my bucket list. Really.

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  10. Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books; I definitely need to get this book immediately!

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  11. Sounds like a book I would love! Glad you've got another chance to see the author.

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  12. I think I'd really enjoy getting to know Gemma better!

    Thanks for being on the tour Audra.

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  13. I generally don't like it when authors re-appropriate the Classics, though I do think it can be done well. I have read Jane Eyre, but it's not one of my literary touchstones as it is for many other readers, so the idea of someone "updating" it doesn't really bother me as much as some other books might. I've been looking for books that are great at whisking me away to parts unknown, so it was nice to read that setting plays such a big role in this one. I'll definitely check it out!

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  14. I love Margot Livesey's writing so was thrilled to hear about your response to this novel. Plus, I'm planning a trip to Scotland, so will be the perfect book to read as soon as I finish the wonderful gothic novel set in France, THE LANTERN. So many books, not enough time. Thanks, Audra. Have you ever considered your own online bookclub to discuss your favorite books?

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  15. This sounds like a great read and I'm looking forward to it.

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  16. Sounds wonderful! Thanks for the giveaway.

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  17. I think I'm going to have to add this to my list of books to read. I haven't seen anyone yet who hasn't liked it. Most LOVE it, as you did!

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  18. I've heard so many good things about this book that I can't wait to read it. My library is slow in getting copies...grrr!

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  19. I love Jane Eyre and I think this sounds like a fantastic version of that book. The fact that Margot Livesey made Gemma and her story it's own using Jane Eyre as inspiration is the way to do it (for me!) I was excited to read how much you liked this book...you certainly shed any misgivings or doubts I had about whether or not to read this book (which came from some less than enthusiastic reviews). This book sounds like it has so many wonderful elements and Gemma sounds like a more attractive, personality-wise, character than Jane Eyre who's kind of sullen, timid, gloomy and blah.
    Thank you for hosting a giveaway of this book, too! I apologize for not getting to your blog(or many others) recently. But it's great to have a list of your fantastic reviews to enjoy! Thank you, Audra!

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