Wednesday, February 8, 2012

REVIEW: The Flight of Gemma Hardy, by Margot Livesey

The Flight of Gemma Hardy, by Margot Livesey. Published 2012 by HarperCollins. Literary Fiction.

So, I wasn't sure I was going to review The Flight of Gemma Hardy. I think it's really hard to rewrite a classic- Gemma is a retelling of Charlotte Brontë's immortal Jane Eyre- and I don't think the book is bad. I guess I just don't get it though.

When you start to rewrite a classic set in another time and place (Livesey sets Gemma in 1960s Scotland as opposed to early nineteenth century England), there are some things to consider. You have to consider how closely you want to hem to the plot points of the original. There are advantages and pitfalls to how you carry off the plot in relation to the original. Hem to closely, and it's boring- the reader already knows what's going to happen, so why keep reading? Stray too much, and you risk disappointing the fans. The author has to carry off what's important in a way that feels fresh but not be a slave to what's not. Most importantly, for the new book to be a success, the author has to create a truly original, engaging heroine (or hero), and the new heroine has to do the things she does not because that's what happened in the original but because that's what she'd do. The best example of the classic-rewrite that I've read, Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary (a retelling of Pride and Prejudice) carries it off without a hitch. While I thought it's mostly pretty solid,  Gemma Harding has some shortcomings for me.

The book is set mostly in the Orkney Islands; the dominant feeling is cold and gloom. Gemma Hardy is an orphan living with her dead mother's family, who despise her. They send her away to a Dickensian nightmare of a boarding school and from there she winds up as a governess at a Scottish estate, where she falls in love with the lord of the manor. Can such a love ever be? There are secrets and lies, and Gemma has some self-discovery to do, too. So if you know Jane you know already you can tick off the plot points pretty easily. Gemma herself is reasonably sympathetic and her journey is interesting to see unfold.

I couldn't forget about Jane thought- Gemma isn't different enough or a strong enough character for that- and the book seems more interested in the plot than in the character development.  I found the central romance to be tepid and under-drawn; I wish I'd gotten to know Mr. Sinclair better. I didn't really understand his "secret" and wished for a little more drama on that point.  I found Gemma's "growth" to be kind of shallow; in the end it seemed like she didn't really learn anything or grow except to discover that she could be as unethical as the man she loves. So it wasn't perfect for me and I wished for a little more heat with regards to the romance, but I have no doubt that Gemma will do very well with womens' fiction readers and most literary readers. If you're a Jane Eyre fan it's definitely worth checking out anyway.

Rating: BACKLIST

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from HarperCollins.

9 comments:

Carolina Gal's Literary Cafe said...

I am sorry Marie, it wasn't for you. I have not read Jane Eyre, so it may be fresh for me. Thanks for your post.

Mystica said...

I am an Eyre fan so this may be for me. thank you for the post.

bermudaonion said...

I've never read Jane Eyre so I might enjoy this more than you did.

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

I understand you, Marie. Re-writing a classic is a difficult task and I agree with your explanations. I am yet to read Jane Eyre, perhaps this year.

Anna said...

I've been really looking forward to this book and am waiting for it to come in at the library. I wonder if this one would be better if it wasn't advertised as a Jane Eyre retelling??

Aths said...

I've been curious about this book for a while. I liked Jane Eyre, but I tend to shun away from more Jane Eyre-esque stories. Looks like this was somewhat well-written, but still falling short. I'm not sure I will read it, but I'm glad I read your review.

Zibilee said...

I found your review to be fascinating, knowing that Jane Eyre is one of your all time favorites, and you bring up some interesting points about how the book was structured and how it all played out. Having just read Jane Eyre last year, I am curious to see how this book fares in comparison for myself, though you've given me a pretty good idea with your excellent review. Thanks for sharing this. I will be looking for it!

Audra said...

Hrm...I read JE once, more than a decade ago, and didn't love it as much as I adored Wuthering Heights, so I'm pretty eager for this one -- I'm hoping my lack of familiarity with the JE plot will allow me to enjoy GH more.

Kathleen said...

I'm not usually a fan of these books that take a tried and true classic and bring the story forward into modern times.