The Flight of Gemma Hardy
By: Margot Livesey
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase
When her widower father drowns at sea, Gemma Hardy is taken from her native Iceland to Scotland to live with her kind uncle and his family. But the death of her doting guardian leaves Gemma under the care of her resentful aunt, and it soon becomes clear that she is nothing more than an unwelcome guest at Yew House. When she receives a scholarship to a private school, ten-year-old Gemma believes she’s found the perfect solution and eagerly sets out again to a new home. However, at Claypoole she finds herself treated as an unpaid servant.
To Gemma’s delight, the school goes bankrupt, and she takes a job as an au pair on the Orkney Islands. The remote Blackbird Hall belongs to Mr. Sinclair, a London businessman; his eight-year-old niece is Gemma’s charge. Even before their first meeting, Gemma is, like everyone on the island, intrigued by Mr. Sinclair. Rich (by Gemma’s standards), single, flying in from London when he pleases, Hugh Sinclair fills the house with life. An unlikely couple, the two are drawn to each other, but Gemma’s biggest trial is about to begin: a journey of passion and betrayal, redemption and discovery, that will lead her to a life of which she’s never dreamed.
Set in Scotland and Iceland in the 1950s and ’60s, The Flight of Gemma Hardy—a captivating homage to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre—is a sweeping saga that resurrects the timeless themes of the original but is destined to become a classic all its own.
Two things piqued my interest in this novel: the fact that it was a sort of modern re-telling of Jane Eyre and the fact that it was set in Scotland and Iceland. I eventually picked up the eBook maybe two years ago but it did take me some time to get around to reading it. But I eventually did, lol.
Okay, so things I liked: I liked how it was set in the 1950s and 60s as a lot of the hardships that Jane Eyre went through are elements that can easily be transplanted into the mid-20th century. Easily, but also eerily; those boarding schools and orphanages sound super harsh, crazy to realise that even as recently as the 1950s conditions were still the way they were. But it’s cool how you have the burgeoning women’s revolution and sex revolution happening at this time, travel was becoming a bit easier, opportunities for education was increasing. So that was really interesting. Gemma is just as assured of who she is and aware of her situation and is as clever as she is in the original inspiration, only with the benefits of mid-20th century mindset with regards to education and increasing independence. I loved the locations more than anything, the remote Scottish north and of course her Icelandic heritage. I also liked the burgeoning relationship between Hugh Sinclair and Gemma; that chapter where they were hanging out by the lighthouse and sleeping along the beaches paints quite a picture to be honest.
So things I didn’t like so much: I thought this would be an inspirational telling or whatever you call it but the story is almost scene by scene rendition of Jane Eyre, just set in the modern day. I get that homages can be tricky but here the beats were too predictable for me to really enjoy this book as a standalone. That her childhood was drawn out the way it was was a bit too long for my liking, I eventually got bored. Also, the reveal regarding Sinclair and why the wedding was broken off was baffling, to be honest. Like, I didn’t quite get it, because he lied? But the lie didn’t feel big enough to warrant Gemma running off…or, more importantly, for me to believe she would run off the way she did and for me to be rooting for her. The whole situation there was just confusing.
Confusion aside, The Flight of Gemma Hardy was a fairly quick read. I love the atmospheric elements and the locations that the story used but I didn’t quite believe certain plot points that the story uses.