Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Flight of Gemma Hardy is a Good Book for Summer

Sunrise was at 5:12, sunset will be at 9:11, 6 seconds less day than yesterday. 

View from kitchen window in summer.
Funny how this little bit of time, the time of a deep breath, will chip away at the daylight until, by October, it's dark when we wake, dark when we get off work.  Of course, that darkness is helped by the earth's topple as our part of the world starts to turn away from the sun.

I don't mind the lessening of the daylight, but I will miss the long twilights that accompany this time of year.  I'll miss that amazing yellow-orange light of deep afternoon that shows every crevice, and the clear, transparent blues that come late late late and early early early.

No matter what's going on around the house, however dull the daytime has been, those long evenings make me think of what could happen next, there's so much anticipation and secrecy in the cooling day, that moment of transition between now and then.  Noises are both clearer and whispery and you lean, slightly, to hear better; the air near the ground is warm but you'll need another shirt as it cools and fills with the clean scent of salt water.

The sounds from over the neighbor's way?  Those domestic sounds of grill clinks, glasses chiming, burbling words, it's obvious that they have a very secret, much more interesting kind of life once the daylight fades and their Christmas lights come up.  Everyone seems mysterious, sophisticated, and so much thinner as the light wanes.

I just finished reading The Flight of Gemma Hardy, by Margot Livesey, something I've wanted to read for a year, and I think it'll be my go-to birthday gift for all the women in the family.   It was so much fun, so romantic, so frustrating.  Anyone who has enjoyed all those Jane Eyre-ish type books will LOVE this one.

I have to say that being able to steal a couple of hours out of the middle of the day, JUST TO READ! has been one of the few joys that comes with being unemployed.  I haven't done it often, only a few times since February, and now, on the eve of my newly hatched employment, I wish I hadn't felt so guilty about it.  I am happy happy happy that the Gemma Hardy library hold came up now, when I was finally over some of that guilt and could luxuriate in the story.

I don't usually like period pieces because so much detail is put in trying to set the scene that the story gets lost, probably because I keep rolling my eyes at the references.  Just get on with it, already.  TFOGH doesn't hit you over the head with timely music or politics, only a few things that come up like naming a chicken "Petula".  Which is kind of perfect because the story needs the slowness of those times, the lack of present day immediacy, to make it work as well as it does.

Gemma Hardy is a strong young thing with a very particular view on her life.  After losing her Icelandic family at age 3, she is adopted into her uncle's Scottish family and raised happily until he dies.  After his death the rest of the family is finally able to treat her the way they'd always wanted to.  She is threadbare and hungry, a drudge in the home, until she wins a scholarship to go away to boarding school.

Unfortunately, her (male) teacher tries to help her and he is drummed out of town by her aunt, and Gemma goes blithely and unknowing as to his disgrace, off to school only to realize that her scholarship pretty much only gets her into the building.  She and the other scholarship girls are the unpaid servants and servers for everyone else, having to teach themselves anything they can when they have the time and are awake enough to learn.

She gains strength through this, though, and eventually ends up at a manor in the Orkneys as the au pair for a little girl named Nell, then meeting Nell's uncle and falling in love.  But, of course, things don't go smoothly.  There are secrets and lies and new people and running away to far places and all so very enjoyable that I wouldn't read in bed because I didn't want to miss anything!

I loved that the book was (oh, so subtly) written in this time period ('60s) because cell phones, laptops, facebook don't exist and Gemma could really disappear and get into the trouble she did.  No ATMs, no credit cards, she doesn't drive so no driver's license.  She hasn't traveled overseas so no passport.  There's no way to find out who she is or isn't, except by using the ways of the small towns in the past:  gossip and the slow travel between villages.

It was so much fun and I can't wait to share this one around!

Good for older teens as well as adults, for anyone who love Jane Eyre, Rebecca, The Little Princess or The Penderwicks.   (HarperCollins.  Available now.  $26.99)

(No recompense was received for the review of this book or any other in this blog.)


  1. I am so excited that this is out in paperback. After reading your review I went right out and bought my copy. Charlie and I miss seeing you at 3rd Place. I sent you a friend request on FB so we can keep in touch. Your blog is fabulous, by the way! ~ Michelle

  2. Oh! It's out in paper? Yay! Even better! I'm so sorry I didn't get to say so long before I was gone- I was laid off on a Monday and my last day was Thursday- I'm glad you found me!

    Thank you for the kind words about the blog, I look forward to being your friend! Say hello to Charlie for me!