Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A modern retelling of a book I've never read

I really want to write about The Flight of Gemma Hardy, the new book by Margot Livesay, but I'm a bit afraid to. It's a very engaging modern retelling of Jane Eyre...and therein lies the problem. Yes, Jane Eyre is a classic. There have been several movie versions (including, I just discovered, a 1944 version co-written by Aldous Huxley). There have been many retellings written, and an entire series that I love (The Eyre Affair) was originally based on the importance of the plot of Jane Eyre. And yet, I've never read it. Yes, I do feel a little shame. So, how can I compare a modern retelling?
The answer, of course, is that I can't. So, if you're wondering how Gemma Hardy stacks up to Jane Eyre, I'm of no help to you. I can really only be useful if you're wondering how it is as a stand-alone book. If you're curious, The Flight of Gemma Hardy is an engaging book that reads more quickly than its 450 pages would suggest. It follows orphan Gemma from the age of 10, in the year following her beloved uncle's death. Her childhood is tragic, and while her aunt is cartoonishly wicked and unloving enough to give the wicked Disney stepmothers a run for their money, Gemma's plight doesn't stray too far away from believability. Her time as a "working girl" in a boarding school similarly skates the fine line between caricatured school masters and a truly tragic situation and manages to fall on the right side. The book continues through the time Gemma is 19 and eager to find Icelandic roots, along with herself.

The focus of this book is Gemma. Other characters are not particularly well-developed, but Gemma is such a strong presence and her story is compelling enough to make the other characters' shallowness something that can be overlooked. I'm not sure whether having previous knowledge of Jane Eyre would have changed the way I read or enjoyed this book but on its own merits, it's worth a read. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think it's time I go read Jane Eyre.

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