Gemma Hardy, the main character in The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey is not a lucky child.
Her young life is full of tragedy and loss and she is saved from loneliness and
orphaned state only to have stability and any sense of belonging yanked away from her once
again. Gemma had a happy family in Iceland until her parents died. Her uncle came
to take her to Scotland to live with his family and her uncle is good to
her. She feels she is home again until
he dies when she is still a girl, at which point she becomes the “Cinderella”
to her aunt and her cousins. She thinks she will land on her feet when she
receives a scholarship to a private school but it turns out that “scholarship”
equals “poor” and although she does attend classes, she is also a servant, a maid
who has an unpaid job keeping the rooms in Claypoole School clean. This is not like
a simple work-study position like we might have today. Class distinctions were
clear cut and a working student was treated like a servant. This school does
not become an answer to her isolation; it is not a home for Gemma.
so Gemma is freed from servitude. She applies to be an au pair in the Orkney
Islands, a companion to a small child, Nell, who lives in a posh but lonely
house, while the mysterious uncle who took her in when her parents died is
mostly required in stay in Edinburgh to earn a living. There are secrets all
over these Orkney Islands. Gemma and Mr. Sinclair begin to have feelings for
each other but Gemma flies away from the promise of a real home on her wedding
night as some of the secrets that have been lurking are revealed.
resort to when she thinks her life or her safety is threatened. But Gemma, I’m afraid,
does not really ever take hold of my heartstrings. I care a little about what
happens to her, enough to read to the end of the story, but I don’t feel that
she is a sympathetic enough character to really carry this story. The places
where the book takes place (the settings) are quite appealing and although the
book is compared by some to Jane Eyre, and although the Orkney’s have some of that
same atmospheric darkness that we see in Jane
Eyre, the characters do not really hold up. The characters are too modern
with all their human flaws to capture the gothic sensibilities which the book
aspires to. I liked the story; I just
didn’t love it.