Gemma is a very bright young girl and eager to learn, but unfortunately she gets off on the wrong foot at the new school, Claypoole. Soon she discovers that her "scholarship" had nothing to do with her intelligence, but rather that she has been taken on as a "working girl," living in cramped conditions and enduring the bullying of the other working girls. The only bright note in Gemma's life at Claypoole is her friendship with a young asthmatic, Miriam, who tells her:
...people's feelings aren't like arithmetic; they don't always add up. As for telling you, I don't know if I can. Some things you can learn from other people and books; some you have to live through.When Gemma turns 17, Claypoole is forced to close its doors, and Gemma accepts a position in the remote Orkney Islands as a tutor for a young girl. At Blackbird House, Gemma eventually meets Nell's guardian, the handsome Mr. Hugh Sinclair. At last, Gemma seems to have found someone who truly cares for her, but doubts and fears drive her away. It is not until she makes a voyage of self-discovery that Gemma can accept true happiness.
If this plotline sounds familiar, it's not surprising. The Flight of Gemma Hardy is a retelling of Charlotte Bronte's Gothic classic, Jane Eyre. Author Margot Livesey's version begins in the 1950's, a time when women without financial means had more options than becoming either a servant or a governess. Yet Livesey makes Gemma's predicament plausible. Similar elements of the story are different, but parallel those of Bronte's novel. Most importantly, Gemma Hardy, like Jane Eyre, is a spunky, independent girl who captures the reader's sympathy and admiration.
|Nothing whatsoever to do with this book, my first irises are blooming and enjoying the rain finally falling on my garden.|
Gemma's character is very attuned to nature; she is drawn to the sea, and her most precious possession is a book from her uncle, Birds of the World. I don't remember if Charlotte Bronte included so much natural description (it's been awhile since I read Jane Eyre), but the view of nature seen through Gemma's eyes is a delightful addition to Livesey's novel. If I have one criticism of the book, it is that Mr. Sinclair's dark secret, the revelation that drives Gemma away, seems rather weak. Granted, I wasn't expecting a mad wife hidden on the third floor of Blackbird House, but I did expect something a little more dramatic than what is revealed.
Jane Eyre has been one of my all-time favorite books, ever since I first read it as an impressionable young teenager. I daydreamed about the handsome but mysterious Mr. Rochester and the improbable romance between him and "plain" Jane, and I've always wanted to visit the English moors that helped to inspire the Bronte sisters. The Flight of Gemma Hardy didn't fuel any fantasies for me, but then, I'm not the daydreaming, romantic teenager I once was:) Fans of Jane Eyre will enjoy Gemma Hardy and finding the parallels between the two novels. But even if you've never read that classic, you will enjoy the story of Gemma, a girl who rises above poverty and a difficult childhood to achieve her dreams and finally find happiness.
Disclaimer: No compensation of any kind was received for this review. I review only books I like and think others would enjoy reading; I either purchase my own copy or, as in the case of this book, check them out from my local library.
For other suggestions for good reading, be sure to check out this month's meeting of the Book Review Club at Barrie Summy's.