“The Flight of Gemma Hardy is a testament to the writer’s talent for inspiration and reinvention—and while it may not live up to the evergreen timelessness of Jane Eyre, Ms. Livesy’s tale is also impossible to put down.”
Gemma Hardy is no doubt the modern day Jane Eyre of our time. Orphaned at a young age and brought from her native land of Iceland to be taken in by her uncle and his own small but prosperous family, Gemma grows up in a relatively loving environment until the untimely death of her uncle. Upon his demise, Gemma’s life becomes one of unhappiness and abuse at the hands of a jealous aunt and cruel cousins.
Remind you of a classic story yet?
Eventually the young girl is thrown into boarding school where she is all but a servant. Nonetheless, she shows herself to be both inventive and resilient. Surviving the desperate conditions of Claypoole School and the death of a dear friend, Gemma perseveres to attain her education. And once she is of age, she goes out to seek employment beyond the walls of the institution.
Enter this novel’s tragic hero and possible tragic flaw: Mr. Sinclair, who just happens to be the guardian of a young girl named Nell in need of a governess.
Sound familiar? It should. Touted as the contemporary Jane Eyre of our time, Margot Livesey’s The Flight of Gemma Hardy has been promoted by the publisher in such as way as to create enormously large literary shoes to fill.
Yet I am not sure that it lives up to all that hype.
The modern day Mr. Rochester’s secret lacks plausibility, much as the romance between him and Gemma lacks spark and magnetism. While one of the hallmarks of Jane Eyre is a detached sense of emotion, it also a raging sense of passion ignited between the protagonist and her lover that makes that story so powerfully memorable. That lovers’ bond makes Jane Eyre a classic—and is unfortunately missing in this newest interpretation.
Nevertheless, the experience of losing all hope of love and affection at such a young age only to grow up and possibly find it in the most unlikely of places is one worth reading about.
Gemma’s ongoing search for love and family in the wilds of Iceland certainly offers compelling sparks of originality. The Flight of Gemma Hardy is a testament to the writer’s talent for inspiration and reinvention—and while it may not live up to the evergreen timelessness of Jane Eyre, Ms. Livesy’s tale is also impossible to put down.