The Flight of Gemma Hardy: Review

by Elizabeth


The Flight of Gemma Hardy is a resetting of Jane Eyre into 1960s Britain, but it’s not a slavish retelling. Author Margot Livesey takes the basic plot outline and reimagines it, changing some things but preserving main events and, most importantly, Jane’s fearlessness, impudence when necessary, and flair for surviving difficult circumstances with tenacity and a certain style. As such, it is a delightful read—perfect both for rabid Bronte fans and those who have never cracked the cover of the original classic (assuming that if such a person exists she would be interested in literary fiction at all).

Livesay says, “I wanted (my heroine) to come of age just slightly before the rising tide of feminism—the pill, equal pay, discrimination—broke…I am…recasting Jane’s journey to fit my own courageous heroine and the possibilities of her time and place.” Although the book opens with Gemma living with a cruel aunt and 3 cousins (one boy, two girls), none of whom like her, follows with her being sent to a fantastically horrible boarding school, and ends up with her becoming an au pair to an orphaned wayward girl in a remote setting with a brooding, darkly handsome, rich uncle who is gone most of the time, that is where the similarities end. There are enough events to make this book an homage, but plenty of changes to keep you engaged and guessing. This isn’t simply “Reader, I married him,” but rather “I leaned forward and kissed him.”

So, some of the differences. Gemma was born to an Icelandic father and Scottish mother in Scotland, and orphaned when she was 3. Her kind uncle comes to take her to live with his family. One of the great parts of the book is the filling in of Gemma’s backstory and the development of the uncle’s character; he is a true father-figure, kind and generous and loving. After his death and the deterioration of whatever relations existed between Gemma and her aunt and cousins, she is sent to live-in as a “working pupil” at a boarding school. Her teacher is one person who is reliably kind, and before she leaves she entrusts to him a box containing all the things she has left from her parents.

As a working-pupil, Gemma and a few others are there to provide free child labour, so although they do attend a few classes, they are constantly put down and not expected to succeed. That Gemma does is due not only to her natural intelligence and tenacity but also to her previous education and the help of a friend.

When she leaves school, she takes a position as an au pair on the Orkneys, a remote group of islands north of Scotland. Nell, her pupil, has been running wild; her uncle works in London and only comes to visit occasionally.

Livesey manages the gothic elements with ease too. My main regret with this story is that there is no madwoman in the attic. How can one have Jane Eyre without Bertha and her streaming black hair and night pyrotechnics? I must admit that Hugh Sinclair’s dark secret wasn’t quite dark enough for me, although it’s enough to send Gemma stumbling away, getting her purse stolen on a bus, sleeping in a church, and ending up with a postman’s family in north Wales.

I feel I have told you enough—maybe more than enough. I won’t tell you what comes next and where she ends up, if she ever feels she has a family of her own or not. This is a modern retelling, and there are nuances and shadings and secrets that belong more to our own age.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy is a lovely book and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Best of all, one of you can enjoy it too! Just leave a comment below to be entered to win a free copy. The winner will be announced on January 25, 2012.
This giveaway is now closed.

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Elizabeth has been a fan of Jane Eyre since she was about 12 and her parents made her read it. She recently introduced Jane to her own daughter, and is happy to report that another fan is born. Learn more at her blog Planet Nomad.

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{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Julie P. January 11, 2012 at 6:50 am

I just had a good friend tell me how much she loved this book. I’d be thrilled to win a copy.


2 Natalia January 11, 2012 at 10:56 am

Would like to read this book.


3 John January 11, 2012 at 10:57 am

Interesting to read this version.


4 Kristin D January 11, 2012 at 10:58 am

This definitely looks good, I am putting it on my wish list


5 Tami January 11, 2012 at 11:38 am

Jane Eyre = one of my ALL TIME FAVORITE BOOKS!!!

I need to read this. Thanks for opportunity!


6 samantha w January 11, 2012 at 11:55 am

would like to read


7 RachelKiwi January 11, 2012 at 12:17 pm

As a devoted Jane fan, I’ve been looking forward to this book for weeks! Hope it lives up!


8 Margaret January 11, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Please count me in! I would love to read this thanks!



9 Fonda January 11, 2012 at 1:16 pm

I must be the only one left on the planet who hasn’t read ‘Jane Eyre’. Thinking that should be my classic for 2012! Would love to read the modern version anyway!! :-)


10 Colleen Turner January 11, 2012 at 2:43 pm

This sounds just wonderful! Thanks for the giveaway.


11 Anita Yancey January 11, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Sounds like an extremely interesting book. I would love the chance to read it.


12 Joy January 11, 2012 at 3:23 pm

I love Jane Eyre – this looks like a really good book!


13 Amy S January 11, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Sounds great! Would love to win! Thanks for the chance!


14 Sandra Stiles January 11, 2012 at 5:01 pm

This sounds great. Thanks for opportunity to enter.


15 anne January 11, 2012 at 5:10 pm

A wonderful review and a compelling novel which interests me greatly. Many thanks.


16 Kim January 11, 2012 at 5:11 pm

love to read this!


17 riTa January 11, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Thank you for the review and the offer!


18 Beth C January 11, 2012 at 6:39 pm

Enjoyed your review – makes me want to find out what will happen!


19 Becky January 11, 2012 at 7:30 pm

I would love to read this – sounds like a good one! Great giveaway opportunity – thank you!


20 Sandra K321 January 11, 2012 at 7:40 pm

Interesting story. I would enjoy this “retelling” of Jane Eyre in a different century.


21 Mary Preston January 11, 2012 at 10:40 pm

I would love to read THE FLIGHT OF EMMA HARDY thank you. As a fan of JANE EYRE I know I will enjoy.



22 Alison S. January 12, 2012 at 12:01 pm

I would love this book!


23 Dianne January 12, 2012 at 11:55 pm

Have read several reviews of this book and added it to me TBR list. Would love to win a copy. Thanks for the giveaway


24 Linda Kish January 13, 2012 at 12:35 am

I would love to read this book.

lkish77123 at gmail dot com


25 Ginny at Random Acts of Momness January 13, 2012 at 1:02 am

I teach “Jane Eyre” to high schoolers, so I would love (no: looooooove) to win this! Thanks for the great review!


26 tennille January 13, 2012 at 2:32 pm

well if i don’t hear from you in 2 weeks as the winner I am off to buy this!!


27 Elizabeth January 25, 2012 at 6:38 pm

You can still buy one as a gift, but you won! Congratulations!! Please email us your address.


28 Carol M January 13, 2012 at 4:16 pm

This sounds good! I would love to read it.


29 Staci A January 13, 2012 at 9:23 pm

Sounds like a great book!


30 Chuck January 14, 2012 at 12:15 pm

My wife would like to read this one, I’m sure.


31 Shelly Wildman January 14, 2012 at 2:20 pm

I just heard about this book and would love to win it! Sounds right up my alley. :)


32 Angie January 14, 2012 at 4:38 pm

I love Gemma’s books! THanks for the chance!


33 Kerstie January 14, 2012 at 5:51 pm

I’ve never read Margot before but I’m looking forward to it!


34 Angela E. January 15, 2012 at 7:57 pm

This book sounds so interesting.


35 Patricia January 15, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Sounds wonderful! Count me in, please.


36 Shelly Burton January 16, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Sounds like just the right blend of modern and classic! Would love to win it.


37 Johnelle January 16, 2012 at 4:20 pm

This is one I would read.


38 Van January 16, 2012 at 5:33 pm

Would read this one.


39 Garrett January 17, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Should be a good one again!


40 June January 20, 2012 at 6:26 am

What a great book this would be to read.


41 Don January 23, 2012 at 7:09 am

Great Book!


42 Hanna Hutcheson January 23, 2012 at 6:15 pm

This book sounds really intriguing. I’d love to give it a try.


43 Dianne January 24, 2012 at 8:19 pm

Looking forward to reading this. Thanks for the giveaway


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