Margot Livesey

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The Flight of Gemma Hardy

  • February 2012 (Hardcover)
  • Published by HarperCollins.
  • June 2012 (Paperback)
  • Published by Harper Perennial.
  • Also available as an eBook and audiobook from iTunes.

Summary

A captivating tale, set in Scotland in the early 1960s, that is both an homage to and a modern variation on the enduring classic Jane Eyre.

Fate has not been kind to Gemma Hardy. Orphaned by the age of ten, neglected by a bitter and cruel aunt, sent to a boarding school where she is both servant and student, young Gemma seems destined for a life of hardship and loneliness. Yet her bright spirit burns strong. Fiercely intelligent, singularly determined, Gemma overcomes each challenge and setback, growing stronger and more certain of her path. Now an independent young woman with dreams of the future, she accepts a position as an au pair on the remote and beautiful Orkney Islands.

But Gemma's biggest trial is about to begin...a journey of passion and betrayal, secrets and lies, redemption and discovery, that will lead her to a life she's never dreamed of.

Reviews

London Free Press (Ontario)
"The delight in reading Livesey's appealing novel is to dovetail the emotions and experiences of feisty heroine Gemma Hardy with those of Brontë's 19th century protagonist, Jane Eyre; both resilient young women, both downtrodden and cruelly treated but able, still, to flourish....In a clever sleight-of-hand Livesey meshes the two tales, updating the Brontë novel's gothic overtones to engage a modern audience." — Nancy Schiefer
Campaign for the American Reader
"[A] sweeping saga that resurrects the timeless themes of the original but is destined to become a classic all its own." — Marshall Zeringue
BookReporter.com
"Margot Livesey infuses every sentence of her novel not only with Gemma's quite compelling personality, but also with the details of the world she inhabits. As the title suggests, the book is filled with the imagery of birds, but they serve more than a thematic purpose. Gemma's affection for birds reveals her attention to detail and her desire to understand the relationships of things. These characteristics might also apply to Livesey herself, as her sharply observed, firmly grounded narrative transforms a classic tale into a story—and a place—all its own." — Norah Piehl
The Denver Post
"The narrative holds to the heart of Jane Eyre without resorting to mimicry. Mr. Sinclair might as well be called Mr. Rochester; the attraction between the two is as ill-fated as it is inevitable. She must leave Blackbird Hall to find herself, and part of finding herself is discovering her roots. Jane Eyre is, simplistically, a coming-of-age story and a social criticism set in a Gothic landscape. Livesey owns the soul of the story....The portrayal of the working class is near-Dickensian in its brutality and central to Gemma's journey of self-discovery. The girl, and then the woman, has the seeds of an independent mind, but these are nurtured and strengthened by adversity. Gemma would never see herself as a forerunner to the feminist movement. She is merely doing what she needs to survive, by making decisions that are true to her independent and moral character. The Flight of Gemma Hardy is a work that transcends its time." — Robin Vidimos
Fiction Writers Review
"Throughout the book, Livesey gives us terrific atmospheres in which Gemma's drama can unfold: the aunt's house is positively Gothic, the boarding school Dickensian with lost hopes, the Orkney Islands packed with stark beauty. [The Flight of Gemma Hardy is] ambitious—not many writers among us would risk treading on Charlotte Brontë's toes—and although it leans on Jane Eyre, it insists on having a life of its own that does not depend on its famous predecessor. Livesey has been an outstanding writer for quite a while now, and Gemma is the work of a talented, assiduous novelist truly hitting her stride." — Steven Wingate
The Write Companion
"As all readers know, the beauty, tragedy, inspiration, and loveliness that came from the original Jane Eyre is something that many over the years have tried to imitate or duplicate. Seeing as that you would have to be a remarkable writer to even touch the magic that Charlotte Brontë created, all that can be said is that THIS is a remarkable writer. This contemporary retelling based loosely on the original is filled with characters that the reader will remember far into the future, perhaps with readers one day comparing the two when Ms. Livesey's version joins the first in literary history....Every scene is monumental in its own way. The characters are so enticing, the reader simply does not want to put this book down. The contemporary feel flows quite easily with the memories of the original Jane Eyre. Gemma goes from abused girl to a woman who finds redemption, love, and peace at last." — Amy Lignor
The Wall Street Journal
"[T]hough there are countless points of comparison between the two novels (like Jane, Gemma feels a spiritual affinity for birds, for instance), the nicest thing about The Flight of Gemma Hardy is that its story is absorbing on its own terms and does not rely on a close knowledge of the original....Ms. Livesey writes lovely, understated prose, and she is here in her favored milieu: the Scottish countryside, where she set her mesmerizing 2001 novel, Eva Moves the Furniture. Ms. Livesey's treks through the novel's pleasing natural landscapes—gusty, beech-topped hillsides and rocky coastlines—are almost as engaging as her navigation of Gemma's restless psyche." — Sam Sacks
The New York Times Book Review
"It's a delight to follow the careful dovetailing of the two novels—starting on the rainy day when both stories begin, with each heroine in a window seat, finding solace in the pages of an encyclopedia of birds...Livesey is a lovely, fluid writer. There's much pleasure to be had in her descriptions of neolithic sites in Orkney and, most of all, her abiding affinity for the natural world." — Sarah Towers
O the Oprah Magazine
"In her cunning adaptation....Margot Livesey turns Jane [Eyre] into Gemma, the 20th-century version. Initially Gemma's story closely follows Jane's in tone and structure....but Gemma and Jane's paths diverge. By the mid-1960s, right and wrong are not as clear-cut as they once seemed. Expect no madwoman in the attic, and no pure villains. Instead, Livesey offers up characters who make crazy, often hurtful decisions based on pain and loss. Happy endings become more complicated once the politics of feminism and rock 'n' roll begin to challenge women to rethink their goals." — Liza Nelson
Library Journal
"[An] original slant on a classic story.... Within the classic framework, Livesey molds a thoroughly modern character who learns to expect the best of herself and to forgive the missteps of others. The author has a gift for creating atmosphere."
Booklist
"The talented Livesey updates Jane Eyre, taking care to home in on the elements of this classic story that so resonate with readers.... Despite readers' familiarity with the story line, they will be held rapt.... A sure bet for both book clubs and Brontë fans."

More praise for The Flight of Gemma Hardy

"In The Flight of Gemma Hardy, Margot Livesey offers a new telling of Jane Eyre, for which no contemporary writer is better suited. As always, Livesey's prose is a garden of pleasures: precision here, lyricism there, wit and compassionate insight throughout." — Amy Bloom, author of Away

"The Flight of Gemma Hardy is the portrait of a delicate, iron-willed girl, an orphan and a heroine in the grand tradition. The writing is at once wholehearted and razor sharp, but here as in all of Livesey's novels, the real treasure is her gift for exploring the unreduced human psyche with all its radiant contradictions, mercurial insights, and desperate generosities. Gemma is real—it's as simple as that. And through her eyes we see step-by-step what it means to stay determined in the face of the world's ceaseless ambiguities—what it means, in other words, to take possession of one's own life." — David Wroblewski, author of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

"The fabulous Margot Livesey has written a book steeped in remote landscapes, secret histories, and great love. Orphan Gemma is a modern-day Jane Eyre, thoroughly engaging and bracingly unsentimental. The prose is meticulous, the tale transporting. Trust me, you will love this book." — Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club and Wit's End

"The Flight of Gemma Hardy is an inventive re-imagining of Jane Eyre; the feisty Gemma is a delightful character in her own right, and it was a pleasure to follow her adventures." — Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry

In the Author's Words

"I made my heroine a little older than myself because I wanted her to come of age just slightly before the rising tide of feminism—the pill, equal pay, discrimination—broke over both Britain and the States. The Flight of Gemma Hardy is, in my mind, neither my autobiography nor a retelling of Jane Eyre. Rather I am writing back to Charlotte Brontë, recasting Jane's journey to fit my own courageous heroine and the possibilities of her time and place. And like Brontë I am, of course, stealing from my own life."