Saturday, May 5, 2012

Jane Eyre Redux: "The Flight of Gemma Hardy"

I have read and liked some of Margot Livesey’s fiction before; I have now just finished her recent novel, “The Flight of Gemma Hardy” (Harper, 2012). When I read reviews that stated that this novel was a 1950s interpretation of Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre,” I wondered if it would feel gimmicky. But I trusted my instinct that a writer of Livesey’s stature would not allow that to happen, and I was right. The retelling is close enough that readers can see the bones of the Jane Eyre story (unloving aunt and cousin, harsh life as a charity case at a boarding school, life as a governess, love and engagement, an unwelcome revelation, a dreadful time wandering friendless and moneyless, rescue by kind friends, discovery of formerly unknown relatives and friends, and more…) but different enough that it stands up as a compelling independent novel. Readers would not need to know “Jane Eyre” to enjoy this book, but knowing it does add a dimension of depth and pleasure to the experience. The story takes place in Scotland (mostly) and Iceland, and one of its rewards is the descriptions of these settings. But the main draw of the novel is the strong, original, courageous, vulnerable girl and young woman, Gemma. We root for her, worry about her, applaud her, and eagerly read on to see what will happen next. This is a beautifully written and very satisfying novel, whether readers are Bronte fans or not.

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