A new take on an old classic

I discovered a new-to-me author at the DBF. Have you read anything by Margot Livesey? She is a Scottish author who is disarming and wonderfully authentic in person, and possess powers of flight in her writing. Dare I confess that I made the decision to buy her novel the moment she opened her mouth and began speaking in a Scottish accent? No, not really. But it helped. Her latest novel, The Flight of Gemma Hardy, is an hommage to Jane Eyre. No one uses that word lightly to talk about Gemma Hardy. There are many similarities, so much so that I wondered halfway through the book (which I read breathlessly in two days) if we needed another Jane Eyre. The answer is, of course we do! We all wanted to read Jane Eyre again as soon as we finished it (and many of us did), which suggests there’s something in Jane’s story that strikes a deep, resonante chord.

During her talk, Livesey spoke a good deal about how she felt a particular kinship to Jane growing up. When her mother (who was haunted by poltergeists all her life!) died, Livesey was raised by an overbearing step mother who told her things like, “tis sharper than a serpent’s took to have a thankless child.” Like Jane Eyre, she grew up in the Scottish moors (in many ways like the Yorkshire Moors) under the shadow of the boys boarding school where her father taught, whose gothic architecture reminded Livesey of Lowood Institution where Jane spent many tormented chapters. Finally, she too was carted off to a girls’ boarding school. Though she was not treated quite as badly as Jane, she did have a hard time and gleaned much fodder for her future writing career.

That is all just to say it was such a pleasure to be transported off to Scotland and Iceland for a day. Livesey’s wonderful descriptions gave me exactly what I needed (without realizing it): a dose of Bronte and refreshing blast of cold Scottish air.

I thought I’d share some of the images that came to my mind throughout the reading:

1. Orkney Island in Scotland where Gemma is au pair to a willful eight-year-old girl. 2. There’s a wedding in this one too… 3. Gorgeous red hair abounds. 4. An Icelandic fishing village similar to the one where Gemma is born.


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