The jacket on The Flight of Gemma Hardy tells you right out in the open that this novel is “a captivating homage to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre”. That was enough of a come on for me. I made the purchase. How did that work out? Good and not so good.
For all but the final third of The Flight of Gemma Hardy author Margot Livesey sticks closely to the plot of Jane Eyre. In fact this first chunk of the novel is not so much“homage” in my opinion as a flat out retelling. Gemma’s story takes place in the late 1950’s and early 60’s in Scotland and Iceland as opposed to the 1840’s and England other than that? Gemma Hardy is living the Jane Eyre dream.
Livesey’s writing is lovely and has an appealing gracefulness to it. Her descriptions of landscapes especially are stimulating and evocative. I wasn’t always as aware of the quality of her writing as I could have been since I was too distracted by all the parallels between Gemma’s and Jane’s lives. With each of the new to Gemma experiences that Livesey detailed I was too busy ticking off the Yes This Too Happened To Jane Eyre Checklist to enjoy the actual writing. Was this my fault? Having already been told that this novel was a “homage” was I too focused on finding all the similarities? I say no. If you have read Jane Eyre you cannot ignore the identical storylines and characterizations that Livesey uses in Gemma. It’s more of a challenge to find George Washington’s head in the cherry tree in a hidden picture illustration than it is connecting Gemma’s story to Jane’s.
In Jane Eyre once Jane has left Thornfield Bronte takes her on a journey of self discovery. When Livesey gets to this part of Gemma’s story she too has Gemma runaway and embark on the same type of journey. However, Livesey does take this point in the novel to make The Flight of Gemma Hardy less of a Jane Eyre revival and more singular. It is here that you get to really enjoy how well Livesey writes.
I can’t say that I would recommend The Flight of Gemma Hardy to a Jane Eyre fan but if you have never read that classic why not try Gemma? Margot Livesey can write and although The Flight of Gemma Hardy was not for me reading it has made me interested in perusing Livesey’s other novels.