The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey has gotten strong reviews, but my personal reaction lands the book in neutral territory. To be honest, I was drawn into the sad tale of Gemma Hardy, an orphan in 1950s Scotland. Ever since her parents died in Iceland when she was a mere tot, Gemma has lived with her parish minister uncle and his family. Then the uncle dies and Gemma is hastily sent away to a boarding school as a "working student." The next eight years are a tale of woe and abuse; the only glimmer of happiness comes from a friendship with a frail, asthmatic student. When the school closes just shy of her 18th birthday and university exams, Gemma takes an au pair job in an isolated Scottish village. It was at that point that I finally woke up and realized that The Flight of Gemma Hardy is a modern retelling of Jane Eyre. Despite being a fan of that classic romance, I became disillusioned with the book from the moment I recognized the parallel. It sort of creeped me out that Gemma's boss, a forty-something bachelor would be attracted to this naive slip of a girl. As their budding romance crumbles, Gemma's journey of flight throws so many eccentric characters at readers that I just skimmed over them. Maybe a Victorian reader would have been enthralled by each person who touches Gemma's life, but I felt a mixture of dizziness and boredom by all the entrances and exits.
In the end, I wish I had watched a rerun of a Jane Eyre movie rather take the time to read this book. Maybe, it is the physical pull of the mist and the moors that made the original story so much more appealing than this retelling.