The Flight of Gemma Hardy

By Margot Livesey

(HarperCollins, $25.99, 464 pages)

Who is this author?

Margot Livesey is a Scottish transplant to Boston, where she is a Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at Emerson College. “The Flight of Gemma Hardy” is her eighth book, many of which, such as “The House on Fortune Street,” “Banishing Verona” and “Eva Moves the Furniture,” won plaudits from literary critics. She has been published in The New Yorker, Vogue and The Atlantic, and she won the 2009 L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award for “The House on Fortune Street.”

Livesey told Barnes & Noble a bit about her life before becoming a novelist:

“My worst job was a very brief stint at a Hare Krishna factory in Toronto, packing incense. The combination of compulsory prayers and of having my friends get out their handkerchiefs whenever I entered a room soon made me give notice. My favorite job was working as a cleaner at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London. We managed to do the work in half the time we were paid for and I loved pushing my broom around the galleries, getting to look at the art day after day.”

What is this book about?

It’s based on the classic “Jane Eyre,” by Charlotte Brontë, transplanted to the 1950s and ‘60s in Scotland. And it just so happens to parallel some of  Livesey’s childhood experiences. In it, a 10-year-old orphan named Emma, treated badly by her boorish relatives, is sent to a forbidding boarding school where she must earn her keep. When the nasty place shuts down, she, now nearly 18, finds work as an au pair caring for the niece of a rich banker at Blackbird Hall in the remote Orkney Islands and….well, you know how the story goes. This is “chick lit” at its very best, what with a brave young heroine making her way in the world, a passionate love affair and many, many secrets to be revealed.

Why you’ll like it:

Livesey says in an introduction what her intent was in writing this book:

“I made my heroine a little older than myself because I wanted her to come of age just slightly before the rising tide of feminism – the pill, equal pay, discrimination – broke over both Britain and the States. “The Flight of Gemma Hardy” is, in my mind, neither my autobiography nor a retelling of “Jane Eyre.” Rather I am writing back to Charlotte Brontë, recasting Jane’s journey to fit my own courageous heroine and the possibilities of her time and place. And like Bronte I am, of course, stealing from my own life.”

So it’s a classic coming of age story set in the present and contrasted with the past, showing how women have come a long way, but perhaps, still not far enough.

What others are saying:

“Appealing…Livesey is drawn to literary gambles, and there’s no question that modeling her new book on a classic is a risky move….It’s a delight to follow the careful dovetailing of the two novels….Livesey is a lovely, fluid writer,” says Sarah Towers in the New York Times Book Review.

“[An] original slant on a classic story…. Within the classic framework, Livesey molds a thoroughly modern character who learns to expect the best of herself and to forgive the missteps of others. The author has a gift for creating atmosphere,” says Library Journal.

Says author Amy Bloom: “In The Flight of Gemma Hardy, Margot Livesey offers a new telling of Jane Eyre, for which no contemporary writer is better suited. As always, Livesey’s prose is a garden of pleasures: precision here, lyricism there, wit and compassionate insight throughout.”

Booklist says: “The talented Livesey updates Jane Eyre…taking care to home in on the elements of this classic story that so resonate with readers…. Despite readers’ familiarity with the story line, they will be held rapt…. A sure bet for both book clubs and Bronte fans.”

When is it available?

It’s on the shelves now at the Hartford Public Library.

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