That said, I have found a few exceptions to my general distaste for classics. We read Wuthering Heights in my 8th grade honor's English class, and I have loved it ever since. I finally succumbed to literary influences and read Pride and Prejudice a couple of years ago, and found, to my surprise, that it is every bit as good as everyone says. Jane Eyre was required reading in one of my high school English courses, and was one I actually completed. I re-read it about two years ago and enjoyed it quite a bit, confirming that I don't dislike all classics, just the ones that have a storyline I cannot follow or that doesn't interest me (which, naturally, holds true for modern fiction as well!).
Due in part to the recent reread of Jane Eyre, my interest was piqued by Margot Livesey's The Flight of Gemma Hardy, which is billed as a sort of modern-day Jane Eyre. I was not sure exactly what to expect from this "recasting" of Jane Eyre, as the author describes it in her introduction, but I soon found myself just as enamored with little Gemma as I had been with Jane.
Readers of Jane Eyre will find some parts of Gemma's story immediately recognizable. Although The Flight of Gemma Hardy is set largely in Scotland in the 1950s and 1960s, the language and surroundings make the time period easy to forget. For roughly the first half of the book, I found myself forgetting that it was not some long-past generation, but the 20th century. Gemma's background is similar to Jane's, though there is a tie to Iceland that brings a new aspect to the story.
Although I felt as if I knew what was coming next for much of the book, I never got bored with the story. It was familiar in places; surprising in others. There are more modern elements later in the story, once Gemma has left Claypoole, the boarding school she attends as a child. Overall, I liked the second half of the book more than the first, largely because it was a little more different from the story I had expected.
The writing in The Flight of Gemma Hardy is beautifully done, especially considering the author was juggling between time periods and several different settings. I particularly loved the characters from the second half of the book (there weren't many lovable people in the first half, after all): Mr. Sinclair, Vicky, Hannah, Pauline, Archie, and my favorite, sweet little Nell.
Those familiar with Jane Eyre may find themselves waiting for, and guessing at, the comparable mystery aspect of Gemma Hardy. While there is a revelation that changes the course of Gemma's life, it was quite a bit different from Jane's story. I would go so far as to say that, compared to Rochester's confession in Jane Eyre, it fell a bit flat. Still, Gemma Hardy is a different time and place, and the mysterious revelation worked well enough for the story. Had it been anything bigger or more scandalous, I might have felt my attitude toward Mr. Sinclair change. As it was, I thought Gemma far overreacted...but a girl of nineteen in the 1960s and a girl of nineteen in Jane Eyre's world are two completely different creatures. Ultimately, Gemma's overreaction fit her character and the resulting separation gave her time and space to grow and pursue her own dreams.
I love a story that can transport me to a totally different world, and The Flight of Gemma Hardy definitely had that effect on me. It is a beautifully written, reimagining (having read it, I will grant that it is much more than a simple retelling) of a beloved classic. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in classics, or like me, in a good story that happens to have some similar elements to an old standard.
**I am participating in a blog tour with TLC Book Tours. I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The Flight of Gemma Hardy is available now.