Creating modern versions of classic stories seems to be the latest literary fad, though these recreations usually replace several characters with sea monsters, zombies, or vampires. Character foibles such as pride and prejudice seem like harmless vices compared to the doom of a zombie apocalypse. When I heard there was a modern version of Jane Eyre, sin werewolves and parody, I rushed to the library to reserve my copy. I was given only two weeks to read it since it was on a wait list. I was worried that two weeks would not be enough time to get through all 480 pages, but that turned out not to be a problem as I couldn’t put it down. I not only found time to read it, I made time. I read it before bed, during lunch, during work (when I should have been working).
Margot Livesey’s writing is witty and inspirational. Her word choice is perfect, barely an unnecessary word or sentence. She has the gift of suspense, pacing, and sentence flow that pulls the reader gently through the story like a boat effortlessly floating on a river. I’ve never read such vivid imagery. The descriptions are mesmerizing. Wherever Gemma travels you feel as though you could be there, especially when she describes the sea.
The Flight of Gemma Hardy can be appreciated even without reading Jane Eyre as it stands alone without the other book’s context. The parts where the author changed the story do not harm the plot or disgrace the original. For instance, there was no mad woman in the attic. If anything the changes prevent the possible monotony and over predictability of always knowing what’s going to happen. For me, a lot of the enjoyment came from noting where the novel alluded to the original. There is enough old and new content to satisfy any reader.
The characters really come to life in this modern version of one of my favorite classics. The characters are sympathetic and almost seem real. Because it is set right before the feminist movement, you get a character that is refreshingly independent, yet not too far ahead of her time. The story is about Gemma Hardy, a girl who finds herself and learns forgiveness and understanding. Life is challenging for Gemma, which makes her identifiable; however, she is strong in the face of hardship.
Margot Livesey’s novel is a worthy predecessor; it does not fall short of the original. I’m not sure that anyone could have written it better. If you want a book that will be memorable, gripping, and absorbing, this is one that you will read and then cherish alongside the classics.