Set in 1950’s and 1960’s Scotland, The Flight of Gemma Hardy is a modern-day retelling of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. At first, I thought the story was simply following the British literary trope of the poor orphan, at the mercy of heartless relatives, sent to live in harsh and scary conditions. Not until a nearly-adult Gemma makes her way to the Orkneys as an au pair do the similarities to Jane Eyre become clearer.
Does it work?
Mostly. What doesn’t ring altogether true to me is Gemma’s whirlwind romance with Hugh Sinclair, the wealthy, mysterious landowner she works for. It’s a bit hard to believe that an 18-year-old could really fall for a 41-year-old. Even harder to believe is Mr. Sinclair falling for her- especially because it happens the day after the woman he has been chasing is unveiled as a gold-digger. So, in one day, he goes from being seriously interested in a sexy blonde closer to his age, to falling in love with little Gemma? I guess it’s possible, but I had to suspend disbelief there.
However, in my youth, I received broad experience in the gothic romances- particularly those of Victoria Holt– so the story of the wealthy older man falling in love with the mousy young governess is a familiar one to me.
I also don’t completely buy the “horrible” thing Mr. Sinclair does in his youth. Sure, it’s bad, but he was 18 at the time and facing something really awful. That Gemma would immediately reject him at the secret’s unveiling, just days after she had promised him that she would love him no matter what had happened in his past just seems kind of inconsistent and smacks of immaturity. Yet another good reason to not fall in love with an 18-year-old.
And what is it about these deep dark secrets that can’t be unveiled until after the wedding? Do you really want to be stuck with someone who now thinks you’re a horrible person? What if Gemma hadn’t found out until after the wedding, but reacted the same way? That would have been much worse.
Okay, I’ve been way too critical so far. Because the truth is, barring those few things, I really enjoyed this book. I loved just about every setting, from the Dickensian boarding school, to the windswept Orkneys to Iceland’s unique landscape.
The novel is fundamentally, about a young person’s search for identity and belonging and the way that Gemma succeeds in her quest is in the end, quite satisfying.