Unabridged Chick

I'm Audra, a 30-something married lesbian. I love interesting heroines, gorgeous prose, place as character, and the occasional werewolf.
The Flight of Gemma Hardy - Margot Livesey The first line of this novel -- We did not go for a walk on the first day of the year. -- echoes that of Charlotte Brontë's classic Jane Eyre -- There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. However, while Livesey's take echoes and mirrors the classic, she has also created an original and appealing heroine that I fell in love with and wanted to have as a friend.Gemma, like Jane, finds herself an unloved and unwanted outsider in her aunt's home after her beloved uncle dies. Desperate only to connect, to be loved, to be a part of someone's life, Gemma attends a girl's school as a working girl, doing housework and other menial labor to earn her keep. Like Brontë's Jane, Livesey's Gemma has a strong moral compass: Gemma is determined to do what she can for herself, and she has the dogged determinism of a girl who thinks if she just works hard enough, her rewards -- friends, a job, love -- will come in time. (In some ways, I found bits of myself in 10-year old Gemma: goody two-shoes, as she was teased, who just wanted love and learning. I flashed back to 5th grade while reading this whole section!)Like in Jane Eyre, Gemma takes employment as a governess (or, in this case, an au-pair), and she finds herself in love with her dashing, mysterious employer, Mr. Sinclair. There's a secret, of course, and a panicked flight, and resolution, and while all those elements reflect Jane Eyre, the more contemporary setting and the attitude and mores of 1960s Scotland took the story and the characters in a new direction that I just loved. (Although, I'm ashamed to admit, I didn't wholly buy the romance with Gemma and Mr. Sinclair -- but I also didn't get the romance between Jane and Rochester in Jane Eyre.)There's a Gothic feel to the novel, with Gemma's hideous girl's school and the despicable Mrs. Bryant, and later, the moodiness of Mr. Sinclair and his past. I don't want to give away the secret of Mr. Sinclair but I appreciated Livesey's handling of this famous twist. I was apprehensive this would get cartoon-y or very into melodramatic gothic, but Livesey was consistent with the mood and the characters.And the writing. Livesey is just a great writer -- end of story. (Ha, a kind of pun!) The story flowed -- I hesitate to say 'raced', because I didn't feel like I was running so much as caught in the prose -- and I just didn't want to put this book down. I was hanging on every lovely word.I have to confess, Jane Eyre isn't my favorite Brontë novel, so I didn't anticipate having problems with this novel. I love the 'what if?' feel of Jane Eyre having to navigate her story in an era where women ostensibly have more freedom, where class differences are more and less rigid, and there's greater opportunity for someone to strike out on their own. This would make a marvelous book club selection, not only for its connection with Jane Eyre but also for the themes and moods Livesey employs. This was another book I regretted finishing and that, despite its heft, I wanted to be twice in size just so I could have more time with Gemma Hardy.