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The Flight of Gemma Hardyby Margot Livesey
Having lost both her parents, and subsequently her beloved uncle, 10-year-old Gemma Hardy is left with her uncle's wife. Her aunt despises Gemma and wastes no time dispatching her off to boarding school, where room and board are exchanged for nonstop backbreaking work. Education is an afterthought, but Gemma is a bright and earnest girl. After eight long years, she has worked hard and begrudgingly earns the respect of the school director. When the school abruptly closes, Gemma realizes she is soon to be homeless and penniless. Answering a desperate ad for a nanny on the isolated Orkney Islands, Gemma hopes to find — finally — the home and security she has never known.
Sound familiar? Livesey does a great job with this homage to Jane Eyre — so much so that I often forgot that Gemma Hardy lived in 1966 and not in 1850, until things like trousers on women, nail polish, and Scrabble intruded. Like Jane, Gemma is a serious and intellectual woman who falls in love with her employer, Hugh Sinclair (Livesey's stand-in for Mr. Rochester). There is no mad woman in the attic, but Gemma does have her own demons who threaten her happiness. Hugh Sinclair also has ghosts from his past, and Gemma finds herself unable to accept them. Taking flight, she disappears — leaving her newfound home, security, and love in her wake. Desperate to find some sense of family and her own history, Gemma realizes she is willing to lie, and worse: take on the exact same characteristics she finds intolerable in Sinclair. Touching on the histories of both Iceland and Scotland, with charming folktales and sometimes heartbreaking historical stories, Livesey writes a detailed and layered tale of loneliness, determination, self-discovery, and love.
Synopses & Reviews
When her widower father drowns at sea, Gemma Hardy is taken from her native Iceland to Scotland to live with her kind uncle and his family. But the death of her doting guardian leaves Gemma under the care of her resentful aunt, and it soon becomes clear that she is nothing more than an unwelcome guest at Yew House. When she receives a scholarship to a private school, ten-year-old Gemma believes she's found the perfect solution and eagerly sets out again to a new home. However, at Claypoole she finds herself treated as an unpaid servant.
To Gemma's delight, the school goes bankrupt, and she takes a job as an au pair on the Orkney Islands. The remote Blackbird Hall belongs to Mr. Sinclair, a London businessman; his eight-year-old niece is Gemma's charge. Even before their first meeting, Gemma is, like everyone on the island, intrigued by Mr. Sinclair. Rich (by Gemma's standards), single, flying in from London when he pleases, Hugh Sinclair fills the house with life. An unlikely couple, the two are drawn to each other, but Gemma's biggest trial is about to begin: a journey of passion and betrayal, redemption and discovery, that will lead her to a life of which she's never dreamed.
Set in Scotland and Iceland in the 1950s and '60s, The Flight of Gemma Hardy—a captivating homage to Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre—is a sweeping saga that resurrects the timeless themes of the original but is destined to become a classic all its own.
"Inspired by Jane Eyre, Livesey (The House on Fortune Street) offers vibrant prose and a feisty heroine in her fascinating sixth novel, set in Scotland in the early 1960s. After 10-year-old Gemma Hardy's parents die, she is taken in by a kind uncle, much to his wife's dismay. When her uncle dies, the novel takes on shades of Cinderella as Gemma (who had been accepted by her cousins) is made into a scullery maid. Though her aunt attempts to break her down, Gemma works hard in school, earning a scholarship place at the Claypool boarding school. Again little more than a slave, Gemma learns how to survive among the working girls. When the school closes, Gemma takes a position in the Orkneys, where she will live at the estate of the mysterious Sinclair and look after his wild niece, Nell. She and Sinclair fall in love, but Sinclair has a secret that drives Gemma to change, as well as inspiring her to trace her Icelandic roots. Although guardian angels and kind strangers turn up like an army of deus ex machinas, these plot missteps don't detract from Gemma's self-possessed determination. Captivating and moving, this book is a wonderful addition to Livesey's body of work." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
The resonant story of a young womans struggle to take charge of her own future, The Flight of Gemma Hardy is a modern take on a classic story—Charlotte Brontës Jane Eyre—that will fascinate readers of the Gothic original and fans of modern literary fiction alike, with its lyrical prose, robust characters, and abundant compassion. Set in early 1960s Scotland, this breakout novel from award-winning author Margot Livesey is a tale of determination and spirit that, like The Three Weissmanns of Westport and A Thousand Acres, spins an unforgettable new story from threads of our shared, still-living literary past.
“Gemma is real—its as simple as that. And through her eyes we see step by step what it means . . . to take possession of ones own life.” —David Wroblewski, author of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
About the Author
Margot Livesey's acclaimed novels include Eva Moves the Furniture and Banishing Verona. Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly. Born in Scotland, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts and teaches at Emerson College.
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