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ReaderMarija's Reviews

...a pot luck of thoughts and reflections

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The Flight of Gemma Hardy - Margot Livesey The Flight of Gemma Hardy really surprised me, though I must say, not in a good way. When reading through this book, it felt like this was the author’s first novel, and I was genuinely surprised that Margot Livesey is an acclaimed writer and author of a number of works. When you really consider and analyze the story of The Flight of Gemma Hardy—completely ignoring all of the book’s connections with Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre—as a pure story, the plot of Livesey’s novel falls apart. The story itself is more fantastical than based upon reality, i.e. something that could have really taken place during late 1950s-mid-1960s, the time period when this story is set.

The crux of this book’s problem is the complete lack of communication amongst the characters. None of the characters outwardly express themselves or really discuss their feelings. There are lots of secrets in this book and not all of them are ever really resolved by the novel’s end. As well, this lack of communication forces the reader to wonder how is it possible for these characters to feel any sort of real and meaningful emotional connection. Ultimately, the more you think about these characters, their motivations, emotions, etc., their actions become all the more convoluted and strange. But what hurts the story even more is its immediate connection with Jane Eyre. Like the other Jane Eyre retelling I have read, April Lindner’s Jane, the connection between the two stories does more harm than good. In both retellings, the authors seem to be forcing a connection between the two main characters, without providing enough substance to really form a lasting connection between the two.

Livesey increases the age disparity between her Rochester and Jane: Hugh and Gemma. Here, there’s an age gap of twenty-one/twenty-two years, with Hugh already well into his forties when he meets Gemma. Livesey pronounces this age gap through her characterization of Gemma. For a young woman, Gemma is still very much a child. She fails to understand the symbolism of his actions, i.e the significance of the bird feather he gives her—completely dismissing it like a piece of trash, even expressing her displeasure to him. Yet after meeting with him two or three times, she believes she has found someone she understands, someone she considers to be “her equal.” Now, with that in mind, how can one express that Hugh’s feelings are truly honorable? When thinking about it, Hugh just seems to be a man facing a mid-life crisis, seeking someone with whom he can “sate his lusts.” But even so, what kind of man would continue to pursue a childlike girl, who completely fails to understand him? Given the title, The Flight of Gemma Hardy, and the story’s comparison to Jane Eyre, the outcome of this relationship is obvious: Gemma finally gets scared. Yet, given Hugh’s position and the fact that he is an adult male living in the late 1960s, I find Hugh’s reaction to Gemma’s flight completely unrealistic. Hugh’s actions overstep certain boundaries that no real man would ever take if placed in Hugh’s situation, unless the man happened to be a close relation to Gemma, e.g. parent or guardian. Hugh’s choices don’t make sense, and his feelings toward Gemma seem to increasingly manifest into an unhealthy obsession.

Emotionally, Gemma is a still a young teenager. She is moody and acts on impulse without thinking about the possible outcomes or consequences of her actions. She never questions people or her situation. She readily breaks people’s trust for her own personal gains. As well, once she forms an opinion about someone or something, she is loath to change it. Developmentally, she is not ready to handle the situations in which she finds herself. In some ways, she reminds me of Agnes Rackham from The Crimson Petal and the White. Though while Agnes has excuses for her changeable disposition and unworldliness, Gemma does not. In regards to sociability, Gemma fails to bond with people. The one person I would have thought that Gemma would want to form a connection with, i.e. Hugh’s niece, she doesn’t. Strangely, Gemma here remains passive than reactive, stating she has no desire at attempting to form a bond with the little girl, seemingly believing that it should have been the little girl’s place to make the first move. It is really strange, and so unlike Jane Eyre’s relationship with Adèle.

The ending of this book is abrupt and completely drab. Its sudden cleanliness is so drearily dull and unsuitable. The ending reads like a child’s fable with the inevitable promise of growth and development after hardship. Yet given everything that happens over the course of this novel, the probable outcome of this Jane Eyre retelling shouldn’t be warranted. Honestly, this story needed additional spice to make up for Gemma’s silliness throughout. I felt Gemma’s story should have ended with dramatic and ironic flair, with one of those wonderfully evil bad ends. It would have been more fitting, a good way to shock the reader from a relatively dull story.

Overall, I think that The Flight of Gemma Hardy illustrates one of the worst faults an author can make: creating a weak, almost lazily crafted work. The decision to extend and elaborate on plot details rather than develop interpersonal relationships between her characters was a poor choice on the author’s part. Unfortunately, these extensions to the basic Jane Eyre plot only enhance the improbable nature of this story.