Monday, July 9, 2012
I Just Want to Fly
While my current travel budget doesn't allow for express trips to Disneyland at my every whim (ah, someday...), or even the local bus fare, the global adventures offered up to me by my waiting bookshelf are always within my reach, and my broke-girl budget. :) Next stop: Scotland, and Iceland, by way of Margot Livesey's New York Times best-seller, The Flight of Gemma Hardy.
Set in the 1950s and '60s, the novel follows orphan Gemma, as she endures the torture of her cousins and cruel aunt at a young age, is sent to a strict, scripture-led boarding school, serves as au pair to a small girl while under the gaze of her mysterious employer (with an equally mysterious past), who tries to marry her, but she runs away and nearly dies, so she lives with... no, no, don't worry. No spoiler alert is necessary. This all may sound familiar, but there's no cause to claim "copycat": the book is, in itself, "a captivating homage to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre," so claims the inside cover.
If there's anything to fall under the gaze of my discerning eye, and raise my (no less discerning) eyebrow, then it's the claim of an adaptation/reinvention/homage/modern-day/fractured/whatever. Because if you mess up one of my favorite books, I will hate you: tromping around and pulling up flowers in a celebrated and widely-known garden, is the equivalent of mucking about in one of the world's favorite story lines with your own "ideas" and "opinions." If enough people liked it the first time to make it a classic, then why would you think you could do it better the second time? (And let's be honest here: almost three-fourths of these kinds of novels end up being no better than fan fiction.)
(Some, however, do succeed: read my review of April Lindner's take on Jane Eyre - by far, my fave Gothic romance ever - here!)
Livesey - in my opinion - did not successfully integrate the Jane Eyre plot with her own direction; namely, her Scottish-Icelandic flavor and mod-times aesthetic. Specific elements, themes, and occurrences within the novel, so integral to Eyre's story, are either underplayed, underutilized, or flat-out missing from Gemma's story, to the point where I felt like it was not a real adaptation of her novel at all... it was a half-hearted homage. If I had even seen more of Jane's character present within Gemma herself, then I may have felt more of a connection between the two, but on the whole, I felt that Gemma was more judgemental, selfish, and unconcious of her surroundings than Jane ever was.
Getting that out of the way, the book is not describable as "bad," by any means. When not viewed as an interpretation of Bronte's classic lit, The Flight of Gemma Hardy stands on its own as a solid, emotion-driven, not-just-romance novel, plentiful with beautiful descriptions and well-crafted imagery that successfully capture the magic of the various landscapes throughout Gemma's travels in a single sentence, or two. While I did not enjoy the book on the grounds of it being an adaptation of Jane Eyre, I did enjoy it simply as one enjoys a good novel, when accompanied by warm sunshine and cool lemonade. :)