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Review The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey

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.
 
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Harper Collins
Release Date: January 24, 2012
Page Count: 447
Source: My copy.
Rating: 4/5

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book so beautifully crafted as The Forgotten Garden or any of Kate Furnivall’s books. I know The Flight of Gemma Hardy isn’t exactly historical fiction, but it sure reads like one. Which is definitely not a bad thing.

I haven’t read Jane Eyre, so I don’t have a lot to go on when comparing this retelling. But I can tell you that its rawness and turmoil shines through Gemma’s young eyes, and it’s beautiful. It’s ugly. It’s ugly and it’s beautiful, like life so often is. But this is not a normal life. Young Gemma is treated horribly not only by her schoolmates and her teachers but by her own family. She’s never really been given a chance. And everyone seems to think that she thinks she is better than everyone else she’s around but that’s the thing… she is better. After being orphaned—even when she has family who is perfectly capable of taking care of her—worked to the bone, and never been given a chance, she refuses to stoop to their level of darkness and evil. Anyone would be damaged by this kind of treatment at such a young age but Gemma thrives and stays true to the good person she is, the good person her beloved uncle brought her up to be. I admired her. I’m not going to say that she didn’t frustrate me at times—she reminded me of The Language of Flowers’s Victoria Jones—but I believed in her. She was truly a good person. And sadly, a character like that has been hard to come by in literature lately.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy is one of those books you want to take your time with. Though I read it in a day, it’s not one of those books you just read. You have to take your time absorbing its elements and eventually it will swallow you whole. I read the first two hundred pages without looking up. It’s just written that beautifully. You can’t look away.

Despite this, I thought the romance (or romances) could have been better. I didn’t think there was much development to be found in Gemma and Hugh’s relationship and there was practically no build up. I liked him, but I felt that the author wanted us to fall head over heels for him but with the way he was portrayed I thought he was just a normal guy. I’m a romantic at heart—I pretty much need at least a little romance in every story I read—but I would have been happy without it here. Gemma was intriguing enough on her own.

Furthermore, I thought the ending was a bit off. It didn’t feel rushed but I felt like other relationships (friendships especially) could have been wrapped up better. Actually, I didn’t feel like some of them were wrapped up at all.

These are forgivable elements though, as the novel as a whole was so wonderfully crafted. Livesey has definitely worked some magic here. And, though it doesn’t matter to some people, the cover of this book is freaking PERFECT.

A new favorite, for sure.