Published: 2012 by HarperCollins Publishers
Length: 464 pages
Source: From Publisher via TLC Book Tours
Personal Enjoyment Factor: 4/5
A modern retelling of the beloved Jane Eyre? I was both intrigued and nervous when I began this novel. There's a certain audacity in such an attempt that prompts the reader to mentally dare the author to prove that they are somehow worthy of such task. "Have you got what it takes, Ms. Livesey? Can you justify this reincarnation of the irreplaceable Jane into the 20th century?" There was, of course, only one way to find out.
The story begins with an air a familiarity for those who have read Jane Eyre--an orphan unloved and mistreated by her aunt and cousins, the transition to an austere boarding school, the death of her only friend, employment taking care of a lively young girl. It's so familiar, that it's almost hard to remember that we're in Scotland in the Sixties rather than 19th century England. But once Gemma makes her way to the Orkney Islands, the setting becomes distinct (and breathtaking), as the story becomes something all its own.
Gemma Hardy also becomes a distinct character from her Victorian counterpart. The power of Jane Eyre lies in a heroine that takes control of her life on her own terms, in contrast with the prevailing attitudes towards women at the time. While the contrast isn't as strong in our modern-day heroine, Gemma also becomes a woman directing her own course in life. Her own personal code of morality is formed throughout the novel, as secrets are revealed and questions about her origins are answered. In this moral code she sets herself apart from Jane, with a more modern viewpoint, of course, resulting in a somewhat different outcome.
This outcome and the events leading up to it lack the deliciously Gothic intensity of the original Jane Eyre, but they were suspenseful in their own right, and warranted some vigorous page-turning. If I could ask for something more from the novel, it would be a stronger presence from Mr. Sinclair, Gemma's employer-turned-love interest. I also would have liked for the author to have delved more into the mysterious, supernatural aspects of the story. I expected something more. But perhaps she meant for them to remain ambiguous.
In the end, do I feel that Ms. Livesey proved that she could accomplish the feat of reinventing one of my favorite novels of all time? Well, the book entertained me, swept me away to a different place and time, and made me think about my own moral compass. I would call that a success. Although I've tried really hard to keep this review serious, I can't help but end with an apt food comparison. (What can I say? Food and books. Is there anything else to life?) I love both store-bought Chips Ahoy cookies and homemade chocolate chip cookies. When I want to enjoy a satisfying crunch with minimal effort, I'll grab the Chips Ahoy. If I want warm, gooey, right-out-of the oven cookies, I'll take some time to gather the ingredients, mix up a batch, and wait that ten minutes for them to bake. The Flight of Gemma Hardy is like those fabulous Chips Ahoy cookies, and Jane Eyre is more like homemade. Very different, but delicious. And no calories.
For more reviews of The Flight of Gemma Hardy, check here.