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by Margot Livesey
Reviewed by Dorothy Dudek Vinicombe

A good story never dies—instead, it can always either be resurrected or re-interpreted by an insightful author who knows the value of an intriguing narrative and thoughtful characterisation. This is certainly the case with this new novel by Scottish writer Margot Livesey. In The Flight of Gemma Hardy Livesey takes the bones of every schoolgirl's favourite governess novel, Jane Eyre, and carefully transplants the plot to Scotland and Iceland in the 1950's and 1960's.

The decent and determined Jane becomes Gemma, the only issue of an unconventional marriage between a Scottish nurse and an Icelandic fisherman. Born in a tiny village in Iceland, Gemma has a relatively idyllic early childhood until the premature deaths of her parents in separate accidents. She is then whisked away to Scotland by her uncle, a kindly minister with a demanding, spoilt wife and three unpleasant children. Upon his subsequent death, Gemma's harridan of an aunt sends her to a boarding school as a scholarship child. It is at this point we come to realise that Livesey intends to have a "jolly good play" with the original plot, while still retaining the heart of the story.

While not wishing to give away too many of the revisions, by the time Gemma has her first encounter with Hugh Sinclair, the Mr Rochester doppelganger, the reader is well and truly hooked, ever curious to know what Livesey will retain from the original plot, and what she will discard or transform. To be honest, I didn't find Sinclair as convincing in his personal torments as Edward Rochester, but then what a hard act to follow! As mad wives were cheaper by the dozen by the time the 1960's arrived, Livesey has had to find an alternative Achilles heel for her deeply flawed but charismatic hero. One must concede that Sinclair's dark secret that drives Gemma away from him couldn't ever be as thrilling as the grotesque eroticism of the original Bertha in the attic.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy is an absorbing read that will transport you to another time and place, in much the same way that the original Jane Eyre continues to do. There would be few authors who would be brave enough to take on this much loved classic and reinvent it. Not only has Livesey had the courage to do so, but she also has the talent to transform the irrepressible young governess into a 20th century heroine without resorting to too many politically correct clichés. Furthermore, Livesey's skills at describing settings in her fictional world and inhabiting them with convincing secondary characters show that she is a worthy successor to the Bronte sisterhood.

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