Flight of Gemma Hardy: A Novel (P.S.)

( 1 )


When her widower father drowns at sea, Gemma Hardy is taken from her native Iceland to Scotland to live with her kind uncle and his family. But the death of her doting guardian leaves Gemma under the care of her resentful aunt, and it soon becomes clear that she is nothing more than an unwelcome guest at Yew House. When she receives a scholarship to a private school, ten-year-old Gemma believes she's found the perfect solution and eagerly sets out again to a new home. However, ...

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When her widower father drowns at sea, Gemma Hardy is taken from her native Iceland to Scotland to live with her kind uncle and his family. But the death of her doting guardian leaves Gemma under the care of her resentful aunt, and it soon becomes clear that she is nothing more than an unwelcome guest at Yew House. When she receives a scholarship to a private school, ten-year-old Gemma believes she's found the perfect solution and eagerly sets out again to a new home. However, at Claypoole she finds herself treated as an unpaid servant.

To Gemma's delight, the school goes bankrupt, and she takes a job as an au pair on the Orkney Islands. The remote Blackbird Hall belongs to Mr. Sinclair, a London businessman; his eight-year-old niece is Gemma's charge. Even before their first meeting, Gemma is, like everyone on the island, intrigued by Mr. Sinclair. Rich (by Gemma's standards), single, flying in from London when he pleases, Hugh Sinclair fills the house with life. An unlikely couple, the two are drawn to each other, but Gemma's biggest trial is about to begin: a journey of passion and betrayal, redemption and discovery, that will lead her to a life of which she's never dreamed.

Set in Scotland and Iceland in the 1950s and '60s, The Flight of Gemma Hardy—a captivating homage to Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre—is a sweeping saga that resurrects the timeless themes of the original but is destined to become a classic all its own.

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Editorial Reviews

Sarah Towers
…Livesey's appealing new novel, is, as she has explained, a kind of continued conversation, a "recasting" of both Jane Eyre and Livesey's own childhood…Livesey is drawn to literary gambles, and there's no question that modeling her new book on a classic is a risky move. For the most part, she succeeds. It's a delight to follow the careful dovetailing of the two novels…Livesey is a lovely, fluid writer.
—The New York Times Book Review
People Magazine
"Livesey delivers a suspenseful, curl-up-by-the-fire romance with a willfully determined protagonist who’s worthy of her literary role model."
“Livesey delivers a suspenseful, curl-up-by-the-fire romance with a willfully determined protagonist who’s worthy of her literary role model.”
Atlantic Monthly
"Livesey follows Brontë‘s form, but so convincingly does she create her own character’s life and surroundings that the original soon recedes, its story a beloved, familiar body dressed in an entirely new and vibrant wardrobe."
Marie Claire
"In this modern day retelling of Jane Eyre - trade horses for private jets - novelist Margot Livesey pays homage to Brontë‘s literary classic."
Lisa Shea
"A brilliantly paced contemporary adventure about a headstrong orphan’s struggle to claim a place for her generous heart in a secret-laden, sometimes loveless world."
Meredith Maran
"Livesey has pulled off the near-impossible task that the homage begs an author to do: create an original, fresh work that shines in its own light, while bringing an established, esteemed work to the attention of new readers, and showing off previously unseen facets to its fans…."
Connie Ogle
"Jane Eyre gets a terrific modern makeover….Livesey works some sort of magic in The Flight of Gemma Hardy, which is too entertaining to be superfluous, too wise in its understanding of human nature to be a mere retread."
David Wroblewski
"The portrait of a delicate, iron-willed girl, an orphan and a heroine in the grand tradition…. Here as in all of Livesey’s novels, the real treasure is her gift for exploring the unreduced human psyche with all its radiant contradictions, mercurial insights, and desperate generosities."
Sam Sacks
"Absorbing….Ms. Livesey writes lovely, understated prose…[her] treks through the novel’s pleasing natural landscapes…are almost as engaging as her navigation of Gemma’s restless psyche."
Sarah Towers
"A delight....Livesey is a lovely, fluid writer."
Liza Nelson
"A cunning adaptation."
Kristin Ohlson
"Marvelous....Gemma Hardy is one of those page turners in which you occasionally have to wrest yourself away from the plot to admire the language."
Kirkus Reviews
A clever orphan girl, mistreated by relatives, then sent to suffer cruelly at boarding school, finds heartbreak and eventual heartsease with a brooding older man. Sound familiar? "Neither my autobiography nor a retelling of Jane Eyre," says Livesey (The House on Fortune Street, 2008, etc.) about her new novel in the foreword. However, this story bears more than a passing resemblance to Charlotte Brontë's immortal classic. Poignantly narrated, Livesey's tale opens in late-1950s Scotland where, after her uncle's death, harsh new conditions are imposed on 10-year-old Gemma by her cartoonishly callous aunt and cousins. Sent to horrible Claypoole School as a working pupil, Gemma becomes a lonely, bullied drudge until befriended by asthmatic Miriam, whose sad death gives Gemma the power to endure. After the school's closure she moves, now almost 18, to a remote Orkney island, to work as an au pair caring for Nell, the unruly niece of taciturn banker Hugh Sinclair. Love and a surprise proposal follow, and it's here the story parts company most noticeably and least convincingly from Jane Eyre. Shameful secrets, foreign travel and a quest fulfilled follow, before Gemma finally establishes a future on her own terms. Nicely, touchingly done, and the familiar story exerts its reliably magnetic pull, but fans of Jane Eyre will wonder why.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780594434320
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/26/2012
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Margot Livesey

Margot Livesey's acclaimed novels include The House on Fortune Street (winner of the L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award) and Eva Moves the Furniture. She lives in the Boston area and is a Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at Emerson College.


Margot Livesey is the award-winning author of a story collection, Learning by Heart, and of the novels Homework, Criminals, The Missing World, and Eva Moves the Furniture, which was a New York Times Notable Book, an Atlantic Monthly Best Book of the Year, and a PEN/Winship finalist. Born in Scotland, she currently lives in the Boston area, where she is writer in residence at Emerson College.

Author biography courtesy of Henry Holt and Company.

Good To Know

Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Livesey:

"My worst job was a very brief stint at a Hare Krishna factory in Toronto, packing incense. The combination of compulsory prayers and of having my friends get out their handkerchiefs whenever I entered a room soon made me give notice. My favorite job was working as a cleaner at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London. We managed to do the work in half the time we were paid for and I loved pushing my broom around the galleries, getting to look at the art day after day."

"The first Americans I ever met were a family who came to teach for a year at the boys' school where my father taught. They invited us over for New Year's Eve and instead of the usual festivities spent the evening showing us slides of their very extensive holidays in Yosemite. Ever since I've had a mild aversion to slide shows and I still haven't been to Yosemite."

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    1. Hometown:
      Boston, Massachusetts
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 24, 1953
    2. Place of Birth:
      Perth, Scotland
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English and philosophy from the University of York, England

Read an Excerpt

The Flight of Gemma Hardy

A Novel
By Margot Livesey


Copyright © 2012 Margot Livesey
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780062064226

Chapter One

We did not go for a walk on the first day of the year. The Christmas
snow had melted, and rain had been falling since dawn, darkening
the shrubbery and muddying the grass, but that would not have
stopped my aunt from dispatching us. She believed in the benefits of
fresh air for children in all weather. Later, I understood, she also
enjoyed the peace and quiet of our absence. No, the cause of our not
walking was my cousin Will, who claimed his cold was too severe to
leave the sitting room sofa, but not so bad that he couldn't play cards.
His sister Louise, he insisted, must stay behind for a game of racing
I overheard these negotiations from the corridor where I loitered,
holding my aunt's black shoes, freshly polished, one in each hand.
"In that case," said my aunt, "Veronica and Gemma can walk to the
farm to collect the eggs."
"Oh, must I, Mum?" said Veronica. "She's such a—"
The door to my uncle's study was only a few feet away, across the corridor.
Hastily I opened it, stepped inside, and shut out whatever came
next. Not long ago this room had been the centre of the house, a place
brightened by my uncle's energy, made tranquil by his concentration as
he worked on his sermons, but last February, skating alone on the river
at dusk, he had fallen through the ice, and now I was the only one who
spent any time here, or who seemed to miss him. Just inside the door was
a pyramid of cardboard boxes, the remains of my aunt's several recent
purchases. But beyond the boxes the room was as he had left it. His pen
still lay on the desk beside the sermon he'd been preparing. At the top of
the page he had written: "Sunday, 16 February a.d. 1958. No man is an
island." A pile of books still sat on the floor next to his chair; the dead
coals of his last fire crumbled in the grate. To my childish fancy, the
room mourned him in a way that no member of his family did, certainly
not my aunt, who dined out two or three times a week, played bridge
for small sums of money, and since the season started, rode to hounds
whenever she could. At breakfast that morning, she had said I must no
longer call her Aunt but ma'am, like Betty the housemaid.
Setting the shoes on the floor and trying not to imagine how
Veronica had finished her sentence—such a copycat? such a moron?—I
read over my uncle's opening paragraph. "We each begin as an island,
but we soon build bridges. Even the most solitary person has, perhaps
without knowing it, a causeway, a cable, a line of stepping-stones,
connecting him or her to others, allowing for the possibility of
communication and affection." As I read the familiar phrases I pictured
myself as a small, verdant island in a grey sea; when the tide went out,
a line of rocks surfaced, joining me to another island, or the mainland.
The image bore no relation to my present life—neither my aunt nor my
cousins wanted any connection with me—but I cherished the hope
that one day my uncle's words would prove true. Someone would
appear at the other end of the causeway.
I stepped over to the bookcase and pulled down one of my favorite
books: Birds of the World. Each page showed a bird in its natural
habitat—a puffin with its fat, gaudy beak, peering out of a burrow,
a lyre-bird spreading its tail beneath a leafy tree—accompanied by
a description. Usually I read curled in the armchair beside the fire,
conjuring an imaginary warmth from the cold embers, but today, not
wanting to reveal my presence by turning on the light, I settled myself
on the window-seat. Pulling the heavy green curtain around me, I flew
away into the pictures.
Long before Veronica's remark, even before my uncle's death, I
would have said that the only thing I shared with my oldest cousin was
an address: Yew House, Strathmuir, Perthshire, Scotland. At fourteen,
Will was a thick-necked, thick-thighed boy who for the most part
ignored me. Sometimes, when he came upon me in the corridor or the
kitchen, an expression of such frank surprise erupted across his face
that I could only assume he had forgotten who I was and was trying to
guess. A servant? Too small. A burglar? Too noisy. A guest? Too badly
dressed. I had seen the same expression on my uncle's face when he
watched Will play football, as if he were wondering how this hulking
ruffian could be his son. But their blue eyes and long-lobed ears left no
doubt of their kinship. My uncle had once shown me a photograph of
himself with his brother, Ian, who had died in his early twenties, and
my mother, Agnes, who had died in her late twenties. "Thank goodness
she was spared the Hardy ears," he had said.
With Louise and Veronica, however, I had a history of affection.
Until last summer the three of us had attended the village school, walking
the mile back and forth together. Although Louise was two years
older, I had often helped her with her arithmetic homework. I had also
endeared myself by giving her my turns on Ginger, the family pony,
an act of pure self-interest that she took as a favour. But in July my
aunt had announced that her daughters, like their brother, would go
to school in the nearby town of Perth. Suddenly they had other friends,
and I walked to school alone. Meanwhile the dreaded Ginger had been
sold, and Louise now had her own horse. She had tried to convert me
to her equine cult by lending me Black Beauty and National Velvet. So
long as I was reading I understood her enthusiasm, but as soon as I was
in the presence of an actual horse, all teeth and hooves and dusty hair,
I was once again baffled.
As for Veronica, who was only six months my senior, she and I
had been good friends until she too developed alien passions. Now
she was no longer interested in playing pirates, or staging battles
between the Romans and the Scots. All her attention was focused on
fashion. She spent hours studying her mother's magazines and going
through her wardrobe. She refused to wear green with blue, brown
with black. Any violation of her aesthetic caused her deep distress.
When my aunt bought a suit she didn't approve of, Veronica retired
to bed for two days; my appearance, in her sister's cast-offs, was a
kind of torture. Her father had teased her about these preoccupations
in a way that held them in check. Without him, she too had
become a fanatic.
Despite these changes I had, until the previous week, believed that
Louise and Veronica were my friends, but the events of Christmas
Eve had forced me to reconsider. For as long as I could remember,
the three of us had spent that afternoon running in and out of each
others bedrooms, getting ready for the party given by the owners of
the local distillery. Last year I had drunk too much of the children's
punch and won a game that involved passing an orange from person
to person without using your hands; I had been looking forward to
defending my victory. But on the morning of the twenty-fourth, when
I had asked Louise if I could borrow her blue dress again, my aunt had
paused in buttering her toast.
"What do you need a dress for, Gemma?"
"It's the Buchanans' party tonight. Don't you remember, Aunt?"
I jumped up to retrieve the invitation from the mantelpiece where it
had stood for several weeks and held it out to her. "Yes," said my aunt,
"and who is this addressed to? The Hardy family. That means Will and
the girls and me." She reached for the marmalade. "You'll stay here
and help Mrs. Marsden. You can start by doing the washing-up."
"Anyway I won't lend you the dress," Louise added. "You'd just spill
something on it."
If she had sounded angry I would have argued, but like her mother,
she spoke as if I were barely worth the air that carried her words.
Without further ado the two of them turned to talking about where they
would ride that day. Abandoning my toast, I marched out of the room.
Mrs. Marsden, the housekeeper, was the only member of the household
whose behaviour towards me had not changed after my uncle's
death. She continued to treat me with the same briskness she had
always shown. She had arrived in the village the year after I did and
rented the cottage on the far side of the paddock. Then my aunt had
an operation—she can't have any more babies, Louise announced
cheerfully—and during her convalescence Mrs. Marsden had become
a fixture at Yew House. She had grown up in the Orkneys and could,
sometimes, be lured into telling stories about the Second World War,
or seals and mermaids. Helping her, I told myself, was infinitely
preferable to being a pariah at the party.
But as I watched Louise and Veronica trying on dresses, ironing,
and doing their hair, I had felt increasingly left out. Although Mrs.
Marsden's own wardrobe consisted of drab skirts and twinsets, she
was regarded as an excellent judge of fashion, and the two girls ran in
and out of the kitchen, asking, Which necklace? The blue shoes or the
black? When I momentarily forgot myself and seconded her in urging
the blue, Louise did not even glance in my direction, and I saw her
nudge Veronica when she thanked me. Suddenly I was no good even
for praise. By the time they came in to display themselves one final
time, I was peeling chestnuts for the stuffing and determined not to
utter another word, but that didn't stop me from staring.
In the last year Louise, as visitors often remarked, had blossomed.
She carried her new breasts around like a pair of deities seeking rightful
homage. Privately I called them Lares and Penates, after the Roman
household gods. Veronica was, like me, still flat as a board, but her lips
were full and her hair was thick and wavy. In their finery, with their
glittering necklaces and handbags, the two sisters could have been on
their way to the Lord Mayor's Ball. That Louise could scarcely walk in
her high heels, that Veronica had applied so much of her mother's rouge
that she seemed to have a fever, only heightened the transformation.
"You both look very nice," pronounced Mrs. Marsden. "The green
is most becoming, Louise. Veronica, your hair is lovely."
I was reaching for another chestnut as my aunt sailed in, wearing
blue velvet, her golden hair piled high. "My gorgeous girls," she said,
putting an arm around each. She was still praising them when Will
appeared. At once she released her daughters. "My dashing young man."
None of them seemed to notice that my uncle was missing. The
previous year, when I wasn't passing oranges and playing games, I had
watched him as he danced. Later, from memory, I had drawn a picture
of him, looking like a Highland chieftain in his kilt and sporran; it had
stood on his bookshelf until my aunt threw it on the fire. Now he was
gone, and all they could think about was their fancy clothes. In my
fury the knife slipped from the chestnut into my finger. My gasp drew
a flurry of attention.
"Hold your hand above your head," ordered Mrs. Marsden.
"Move the chestnuts," said my aunt.
"Bloody idiot," said Will, snickering at the double meaning.
His sisters made noises of disgust until my aunt hushed them. "Let
the dogs out last thing," she told me. "And be sure to leave the porch
light on."
Heels clicking, skirts swishing, they disappeared down the corridor.
Mrs. Marsden bandaged my finger and said she would finish the chestnuts.
She must have felt sorry for me, because she told a story about an
Italian prisoner of war who had been brought to the Orkneys in 1942
and fallen in love with a local girl. He couldn't speak English, so he
courted her by singing arias. After the war he was sent back to Naples.
"We all thought we'd seen the last of him," said Mrs. Marsden. "But a
year later Fiona heard a familiar voice. She looked out of her bedroom
window and there he was, kneeling in the road, singing and holding a
By seven-thirty everything that could be prepared for the next day's
dinner was ready. Mrs. Marsden untied her apron with a flourish and
wished me Merry Christmas.
"Where are you going?" I said stupidly.
"Home. I have to get ready for tomorrow."
"Can't you stay?" I imitated Veronica, opening my eyes wide and
clasping my hands. "We can play cards, or watch television. You could
have a drink."
Mrs. Marsden stopped buttoning her coat at my second suggestion—
she did not have a television—but at my third she continued. On
several occasions I had overheard my aunt complaining to her that a
newly purchased bottle of gin or sherry was almost empty. Once Mrs.
Marsden had rashly retaliated by mentioning Will. Now she told me
not to talk nonsense and picked up her handbag. With a creak of the
door she was gone.


Excerpted from The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey Copyright © 2012 by Margot Livesey. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Posted March 12, 2014

    I really enjoyed this book. It was very descriptive and I felt I

    I really enjoyed this book. It was very descriptive and I felt I was I transported to the countries the story took place in. I liked how the author brought the story full circle. She gave an excellent conclusion to the story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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