Wednesday, June 06, 2012

First Wednesday Book Review Club: The Flight of Gemma Hardy, Margot Livesey


THE FLIGHT OF GEMMA HARDY, Margot Livesey,

I was very resistant to this book. On the face of it, it's Jane Eyre updated to the 1950s and set in Iceland and Scotland instead of England, but somehow seeming much the same. Does life never change in the U.K?

I stuck with it because the writing was so good. I have been a fan of Livesay since EVA MOVES THE FURNITURE. But for a long time, I kept asking myself why write a novel so similar to such a famous one. Mistreated orphans, death at a young age for a companion, finding satisfaction as a job well done--being a governess, a romantic employer, flight, closure.

And I can't tell you why this story eventually won me over. Again, the writing is superb and the blueprint from Charlotte Bronte is a winner. On the jacket, it claims to be an homage. But homages need to take flight on their own.

At some point, this book did and the pages turned faster and faster as I read into the night.

SO HERE'S A QUESTION TO YOU: WHEN DOES AN HOMAGE OVERSTEP ITS BOUNDARIES OR ARE THERE NONE IF IT WORKS?

For more reviews, check with Barrie Summy.

8 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti -I'm glad you enjoyed this. I've had experiences too where I was ready not to like a book - but did. Honestly, if a book is really well-written and the "new" author puts her or his unique touch to a story, homages are fine. There has to be something richly innovative about it though for me.

Deb said...

Was Gemma Hardy aware that she was "living" the Jane Eyre novel? I guess that would make Livesey's novel incredibly meta.

I'm usually not a fan of homages, they seem rather lazy to me, regardless of how well-written.

Deb said...

There's a thin line between homage and fan-fic, imho.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Nope, but that would have been a neat idea. And I agree. Don't quite see why a novel of Livesey's gifts did this--although it was very fine writing. And there were some differences, of course.

George said...

I've read homages that work (like THE SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION, a Holmes pastiche) and I read homages that don't work (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES). It's a fine line between success and failure with this kind of writing.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Seven percent took off more from the basic Holmes stories than this one though. This is sort of an updating of essentially the same story. And it feels like it could still be the nineteenth century for all that.

Barrie said...

Now I'm curious to read this book. Interesting question about an homage. Although I don't have an interesting answer! For me, it's all about how the 2nd telling takes on a life of its own.

Italia said...

Livesey is an excellent and deep writer. The original parts of her plot work well, and her transformations of the original Jane Eyre material are solid. It's clever of her to diverge more from her model as the book moves on, as this gives readers more of an incentive to keep going. Unlike the many horrible retellings of Jane Austen's novels, this one would be a rewarding novel on its own merits.