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The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey - Printable Version

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The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey - Charybdis - 05-22-2012

This review contains several spoilers

I wonder why an author would choose to take the Jane Eyre story and retell it in another era. Can't she think of an original story herself? In the case of Margot Livesey, I'd say: probably not. She felt she needed to change a few pertinent elements to be able to cope with the challenge to place this story in modern times, 1959 through 1967, but could not think of changes that made any real sense. In fact, her weak ideas changed the gist of the story. First of all, the story is no longer a gothic romance, even though a couple of ghostly visitors turned up to help the protagonist with warnings and advice, and some people had the second sight. The most important change, however, was the lack of a crazy wife hidden in the attic. This is understandable for a story taking place in 1966, but I would have expected a better alternative reason for "Jane", or "Gemma", to flee her wedding. As it happens, her "Mr. Sinclair" hadn't told her something not pertaining to Gemma at all, but she decided she couldn't marry someone who could be so dishonest. What happens next will turn the whole Jane Eyre story upside down. The original Jane remained honest, virtuous and good, and was ultimately rewarded by getting another chance with her Mr. Rochester. The new Gemma will become a liar and a thief herself, thus coming to a better understanding of Mr. Sinclair's duplicity, and she forgives him. The lesson this novel will teach the innocent reader is that crime pays. I'm sure Charlotte Brontë would be horrified if she read this shallow adaptation.
Gemma is not only deceitful, she is arrogant, selfish and ungrateful. At the start of the book I could forgive her because of her youth, but she grew worse with age. I suppose she and Mr. Sinclair really deserve each other.
At first I liked the way the author used the Scottish setting, having events occur at historic places, but quite soon this became overdone. By the time the story moved to Iceland, I skipped over the tourist guide bits.
The author left a few loose ends dangling. Why wouldn't she let Gemma find and read her mother's journal, hidden in a box and entrusted to a friend? She goes through a lot of trouble tracing the box down, and then doesn't collect it.
And what exactly was the reason why her aunt wanted to see Gemma once more before she died? There was no letter, no apology, just a confession that had nothing to do with Gemma. And why would someone disrupt a marriage ceremony out of jealousy? Ah, Charlotte Brontë did so much better. So I would advise anyone who would read this book in the hope of finding a new take on Jane Eyre, to please skip it and reread the original.
My verdict is a 5 out of 10.