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Monday, April 30, 2012

Book Review: The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey

My mother bought this book; The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey, and then passed it on to me.  MOST of the time, if my mom likes a book, I will also.  I tend not to read the book jackets of books she passes on to me because I really don't like hints or to know what the story is about before I read it.  I think people give away WAY too many clues on book jackets.  I like surprises.

As I read, I began to get this weird feeling that the story was familiar...and depressing.  So I took a gander at those book jacket flaps.  *Groan*, it is a more modern day rewrite of Jane Eyre.  And sadly, I hated that book.  Never mind that Jane Eyre is a classic, it just made me depressed and angry.  I hate stories that seem like the main character is largely powerless, and wholly abused.

This version set in the 50's and 60's might have a little more hope and a tad more power.  I'm not sure.  It's hard for me to judge it fairly when I didn't like it's predecessor.  I'm sure I liked this book better, but I still find it rather dark and bleak.  When I talked to my mom about it later, she shared that she used to read Jane Eyre over and over again as a kid.  Now that I think about it, it DOES rather have a bit of a Cinderella flavor to it.  So I understand.  But I have this overbearing "justice chip" and people being oppressed gets me so upset I can hardly stand it.  That's my problem.  Not a problem of this book.

The general idea of both stories is that Gemma/Jane are orphans who are unwanted and unloved and worked to the bone pretty much everywhere they go and they must overcome great hardship to become independent (if you call engaged to a rich dude, independent).   By and large, people treat her like crap and she encounters one "Perils of Pauline" event after another before her life evens out a bit.

If you're a Jane Eyre fan, you might find this updated version fun.  The odd thing for me was, I really didn't find it "updated".   Jane Eyre was published in 1847 and the language is a bit more formal.  But I found the language of this version quite formal and old fashioned as well.  So much so that when something like an airplane, or television, or listening to records was mentioned, it took me by surprise and seemed a bit out of place.

Despite my initial groan, I stuck with this book to the end and found I enjoyed it more than I thought I would...a little.  I can't imagine how challenging it would be to rewrite a classic and my hat is off to Margot for doing so.  The subject matter is just not my cup of tea.  The writing and the sheer genius it must take to recreate a classic is admirable.  Making up something new is one thing, but I actually think recreating a new story based on an old one might be the bigger challenge.  From that perspective, it's worth a read.


2 comments:

  1. One of my favorite things in a book is if they discuss books and just a general love of learning and reading. What could be more spectular I ask? Margot Livesey is a wonderful storyteller, bringing a bit of her experiences into a wonderfully crafted story that can be passed from one person to the next. This would make an excellent book club read. To talk about the title; The Flight of Gemma Hardy. She herself wants to fly, just like the birds she so often reads about and loves. What a coincidence that she is flying when the story comes to a conclusion!

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  2. I love that you can glean those connections from the book. I think I have a totally literal and linear brain and have little capacity for reading the implications, undertones, substories or other such connections. I think that takes a certain ability for abstract thought I might not possess. The very idea of a book club makes me feel all fidgety inside...that just wouldn't be me. A. I'm an independent reader in my own time on my own terms B. Groups...uggh.

    Thanks for your comment, I enjoy seeing different angles and aspects through someone else's eyes that I just plain miss.

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