Rating: 4/5 stars.
In one of my college essay drafts I made a metaphor comparing myself to Jane Eyre; I liked it, but I don’t think my AP English Language teacher appreciated my line that went “one day, I will find my Mr. Rochester too.” I just loved Jane Eyre. Out of all of the classics I’ve read, it probably possesses the protagonist I relate to the most. I suppose it’s fitting then that the first retelling I read is one of, you guessed it, Jane Eyre.
Gemma is an orphan. First her parents passed away, then her caring uncle did as well, leaving her with her cruel aunt and teasing cousins. Yew House is a home that isn’t a home, and Gemma feels wonderful when sent to Claypoole, a private school far from her remaining family. But the faculty treats her like a servant and does not reward her outstanding academics. Once again Gemma is glad to move on once the school closes, taking a job as an au pair on the Orkney Islands. There she meets Mr. Sinclair, a rich, successful businessman who tests her ability to stay true to herself.
Margot Livesey retells Jane Eyre fantastically in The Flight of Gemma Hardy in regard to setting and basic plot. The writing was modernized and exploring Scotland and Iceland added new historical paradigms to the story. While a little bit of the excitement had been removed due to how we already knew to an extent what was going to happen, I still found myself immersed in Gemma’s struggles and successes. Everything felt comfortably familiar yet slightly different, like who Gemma ended up living with later in the novel as opposed to who Jane resided with.
However, I didn’t connect emotionally to Gemma as I did to Jane. Maybe it’s because my mind was predisposed to prefer Jane’s story after reading it first, but I felt that Gemma wasn’t as great a protagonist. How Livesey ended her retelling left out a lot of the introspection Jane experienced, and I thought that Jane’s self-actualization was part of what made Jane Eyre so great. I’m not sure why Livesey decided to end The Flight of Gemma Hardy the way she did, but it didn’t sit well with me, especially when compared to the finale of Jane Eyre.
Overall, a retelling I would recommend to huge fans of Jane Eyre. You won’t receive a completely new story or one that’s completely the same; rather, The Flight of Gemma Hardy blends a more modern writing style with similar plot elements from Jane Eyre. The ending left something to be desired, but I do not regret reading the book