Thursday, February 2, 2012

Joint Review: The Flight of Gemma Hardy By Margot Livesey


Title: The Flight of Gemma Hardy 
Author: Margot Livesey
Genre: Literary Fiction 
Publisher: Harper Collins
Number of Pages: 484 
Source: Advanced Review Copy from Publisher

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 BrontE'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.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey was inspired by the book Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte--in that it's exactly the same, only set in 1960s Scotland. When Tasha from Truth, Beauty, Freedom & Books and I discovered that we both received review copies we couldn’t wait to share our feelings about the book. The conversation below is what happens when two fans of Jane Eyre read a re-telling of their favorite novel. Be sure to stop over at Tasha's place to see the rest of the conversation. 

Let's do this thing! So, I think it's fair to say this novel can be separated into two parts--childhood and "adulthood." What did you think of the first part?

Colette: I'm torn over what I thought of the first part. I really enjoyed parts of it, but once Gemma got to a certain age I had trouble feeling sorry for her. I kept wondering why the older girls who were 16 or 17 didn't just leave the school if it were so bad. I had a hard time believing that the school would hunt them down like they did that girl who tried to leave. A part of me kept going: It's the 50/60s, they should be able to find jobs as housemaids or something. When the school was closing and she was able to find a job easily, I kept wondering why she hadn't just done that earlier. 

Tasha: Well, she wanted to take her exams and go to University, I don't really know why. When the school closed, she wouldn't have a chance to study for them, so she had to get a job. I 100% agree with you that it was difficult to feel sorry for her after a while. Like page 20. :P It was so just soooo over the top because her living situation with her aunt felt sooo Cinderella-y, and at the school there were no positive things to balance out the good AT ALL. It was like the Perils of Pauline; this girl couldn't catch a break. But once she grows up there are a bunch of people who are nice and willing to help her, so it was pretty easy to get annoyed with her when she start whining. Even when she was a kid there were people who were willing to help her, which I think really took away from the story--in Jane Eyre, you can really feel her total isolation and like she could drop off the earth with no one noticing. That's not the case with Gemma. 

Why do you think the author felt the need to have the setting in the 60s?

Colette: I am still trying to wrap my head around why the 60s were chosen. The author states that she had set before women's liberation, but I still don't see how that had an affect on the time period, but maybe I'm just not looking deep enough. I thought having it set in this time period was jarring, especially after the first half of the book was so similar to Jane Eyre. I found it jarring because I kept wondering what technology was doing in Jane Eyre. There is one point when Gemma says she has never used a phone, (which she hadn't) but I kept wondering why not..even though she didn't have anyone to call, I thought her expression of never having used one was a little over the top for some reason.

Tasha: I completely agree. I actually like the 1960s as a setting generally, but the author's argument that it was before women's liberation threw me. I didn't see the book as being about women's liberation or the time period at all, and it really could have been set at any time in history and been the exact same book. What really bothered me was how she kept mentioning how every woman wore trousers--LITERALLY, it was a costume drama. "Look, we're in the '60s! You can tell because women are wearing pants!" And speaking of women, did it seem to you like 90% of the women in this novel were foaming-at-the-mouth bitches and 90% of the men were really nice and wanted to bang Jane--I mean Gemma? That was creepy.

Colette: I did wondering why the author kept mentioning they were wearing trousers. I think it was to remind us what time period it was in. I did notice that most of the women in the book were bitchy, and the men were nice. I thought that the reason the men kept wanting to date Gemma was to tell us that she wasn't plain, although her aunt said she was. I don't know why, but being told she was plain didn't grab me the way it did in Jane Eyre. For some reason I kept calling Gemma Jane in my head throughout the book, because so many things were almost exactly how it was in Jane Eyre. I've never done that in  a re-telling of a classic before. I still don't know why I had such a hard time with the setting being in this era, but it made reading the book difficult transition wise from part 1 to 2. One thing I still don't understand is how the teacher that was nice to Jane before she left for the boarding school was in the story at all.

Did you have any characters that pulled you into the story? 
 Colette: I had a hard time connecting to anyone. Despite that, I kept reading because I wanted to see where Gemmas story would go. 

Tasha: Not really. The characters were snoretastic, especially Mr Rochester, I mean Mr. Sinclair. The most interesting characters were probably the ones at Claypoole, but even they were fairly shallow.

What did you think was going on with all the "mystical" elements, like Jane seeing that young guy and trying to MINDSPEAK with people?

Colette: I think the mindspeak was there to try to make us feel sorry for Gemma because she didn't have very many people in her life and this was a way for her to try to connect to them. It made sense with her one friend at Claypool. I'm not sure why it continued once she was an adult, unless it was too once again make the reader realize how few friends she had. I don't remember her making mindspeak with a young guy at all... 

Tasha: You don't remember the young man she kept having visions of? He was in the library on her last night at Claypoole, and he told her to beware of the causeway, and then he told her to go toward the cows right before she passed out and Archie or whatever his name was rescued her. I think that was in there to give the book a more "gothic" feel, but it was totally random and not well-integrated with the story.

Colette: I totally forgot about the ghost!!!! I do think he was there to give it a gothic feel, and you are right it didn't really fit in well with the rest of the story.
The Mr. Rochester of the novel was Gemmas boss, Mr. Sinclair. What did you think of him as a love interest for Gemma?

 Colette: I  was so disappointed with him as a romantic love interest.  A few pages of him does not make me fall in love with a character. I needed more of something. I didn't see what Gemma saw in him or what he saw in Gemma. I felt no connection to either of them. I can't remember the last time I was so disappointed in a love interest. I really wanted to like him, but couldn't.

Tasha: The "romance" between Rochester-garrrr, I mean Sinclair!--and Gemma was riDICulous. I didn't see what either of them saw in the other, either. I think part of the problem was Gemma seems ready to go with any dick that shows an interest, and there never seems to be any reason for it. Like with that Tom guy. She never describes anyone as interesting or attractive. I can see that Livesey was trying to show and not tell, but she wasn't showing very much.