10 December 2012

The Flight of Gemma Hardy - Margot Livesey

One of the fun things about reading a lot of (awesome) book blogs with the library request page open is that books show up on the hold shelf for me and, depending on how long I was in the queue for, I don't  remember anything about them - there's just a vague feeling of "positive" hanging about the title. SO, when this one showed up, I was surprised (probably for the second time) that it is a re-telling of my beloved Jane Eyre. And then I got suspicious! And then decided it can't be worse than Wide Sargasso Sea, and by "worse" I mean "more preachy," so just read it already, Self.

Just so we're all on the same page (HAHAHAHA I crack me up), my official Jane Eyre Re-telling Scale goes from Wide Sargasso Sea at the bottom to Rebecca at the top, with The Eyre Affair somewhere around the 85% mark.

Unlike in Rebecca, the events of this book follow Jane Eyre pretty closely for the first 2/3 of the book, and since we've all read the original or at least seen the movie with Michael Fassbender, I don't need to worry about spoilers for a book written in 1857, RIGHT? Good. Okay.

Then please come in and let's begin. Is it warm in here? Please feel free to disrobe, sir.
You've got your evil aunt, your wretched school, your Helen Burns - who in this context dies of asthma, your graduation/leaving of said wretched school, your governess in the remote wilds of a place, your inappropriate relationship between master and servant, etc. etc., and your wedding-that-wasn't.

But it's different, you see, because it all takes place in Scotland, which is further north than Yorkshire and so is colder and even more remote! And herein lies my first quibble with this book - there will be more, as should be expected with a re-telling of a beloved text - it could have been set anywhere, and I feel like a book deliberately set in northern Scotland needs to evoke the feeling of that place. I'm not demanding kilts and rugged, sexy time travelers - FOR NOW - but Livesey didn't capture the distinctive cadence of the Scots or their feelings about their country, which I understand from reading a lot of Diana Gabaldon are vehement.

And then there's the issue of the Mad Woman in the Attic, which was shocking and (barely) plausible in 1857 but definitely not going to work in 1965. I won't spoil how it was dealt with, but I will say that it made Gemma more petulant than her predecessor; the offense wasn't equal to her reaction.

The OTHER thing that I had difficulty with is that the female cousins were not sisters but they were *whispers* lesbians. WHY, Livesey? This is unnecessary. Ok, first of all I fully believe that there need to be more homosexual characters in literature - that fictional homosexuality is less obviously challenging (because it's in a book that you can put down and walk away from when it becomes "too much") and so it helps to encourage acceptance on a subconscious level. BUT. The story wasn't enhanced by the sexuality of these characters, and while their relationship taught Gemma some things about love, it stuck out as an anachronism. So I am torn; on one hand, yes please more positive homosexual relationships, Fiction! and on the other, don't fuck with canon if it's not going to forward the cause,

Overall, I walked away from this one feeling like the story would have stood better on its own feet and not pasted on top of an iconic story arc. The last 1/3 of the book - after Gemma runs away - took on a tale of its own and I liked it better than the previous section. I'd have also liked to hear more about Rochester's Whasshisname's stint in WWII and a deeper discussion of their age difference, as would have been appropriate for something set in the 60's.

6.5 of 11 Ferry Trips to the Orkneys