Fate has not been kind to Gemma Hardy. Orphaned, then neglected, young Gemma seemed destined for a life of hardship and loneliness. Yet her bright spirit burns strong. Fiercely intelligent, singularly determined, Gemma overcomes each challenge and setback, growing stronger and more certain of her path.
Now an independent young woman, she accepts a position as an au pair on the remote and beautiful Orkney Islands. Blackbird Hall belongs to Mr. Hugh 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. 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, secrets and lies, redemption and discovery will lead her to a life she’s never dreamed of.
©2012 Margot Livesey (P)2012 AudioGO
“[An] original slant on a classic story…. Within the classic framework, Livesey molds a thoroughly modern character who learns to expect the best of herself and to forgive the missteps of others. The author has a gift for creating atmosphere.” (Library Journal)
“The talented Livesey updates Jane Eyre…taking care to home in on the elements of this classic story that so resonate with readers…. Despite readers’ familiarity with the story line, they will be held rapt…. A sure bet for both book clubs and Bronte fans.” (Booklist)
“[A] brilliantly paced contemporary adventure…” (Elle)
This story's plot and story line are not very original. Listeners will fairly quickly recognize that the author is recreating the story of Jane Eyre in 1950's and 1960's Scotland. That being said, I loved Jane Eyre and enjoyed this modern re-telling of the story with all the twists and turns that Gemma has to navigate. However, I was disappointed in the end as it was somewhat abrupt. Another chapter to fill out how life turned out for Gemma would have been more satisfying. Davina Porter's reading was, as usual, well done and pleasant to listen to with all of the different accents done quite nicely.
This book started off well, but it had a pretty solid idea to build off of. Jane Eyre is a masterpiece for a reason, but Gemma Hardy is just... guh.
The first problem is the timeline. We're told that it takes place after WWII but I kept forgetting this, and really, I feel like the author did too. When something like a car or record player was mentioned, it was startling--"Oh yeah, this is in the 50s... or was it 60s?"
For a book supposedly about that time period, there were some strange elements. For example, the main character is ready to sleep with someone... but doesn't seem to have any conscious thought of consequences (I found myself wondering, Does she know what sex actually is?). We're told she was raised by a pastor; I would assume that pre-marital sex would have been a problem. Oh, of course, she doesn't really believe in God... convenient.
Then there are the characters, and their development. Gemma starts off strong, but becomes a sniveling baby that can't really do anything without help. Her romantic interest is pretty boring, and there's nothing memorable about him. It's rare to run into this kind of non-developed character, but it happens in this book. He has no personality or anything else; his main function is just to help move the plot along.
The girl that Gemma goes to teach, Nell, displays random acts of disturbing violence, but no one seems to really think about the implications of this, and (of course) at the end she somehow turns into a caring, lovely girl with good behavior. I just don't get it.
The St. John character is a complete disgrace and makes no sense.
Now, the crux of the book would be the relationship between Jane and Edward--but these two just don't work. Gemma runs away for a reason I can't fathom at all; after that, the book just fell flat, and I realized I didn't care. Everyone could die in the end, and I wouldn't care. To be blunt, these characters all suck. If you want a Jane Eyre story, read the original, and skip this pile of bunk.
Jane Eyre is one of my favorite novels of all time, so when this re-telling was recommended to me I jumped at it with both anticipation and trepidation. Could anything else be as good? Nearly.
The writing is quite good, but the plot seems forced at times. No question that it's hard to get a more contemporary character to follow the same path as a character from the 19th century, especially when the options open to a woman were so dramatically different with a century's advance. Within those limitations author Margo Livesey does a very good job.
However, I was unhappy with the cause of Gemma's parting from Sinclair (her Rochester). I won't spoil it, because I know I read to this point with lots of excited anticipation wondering what Livesey would come up with to replace Rochester's bigamy. Let's just say it falls flat: It wasn't really an impediment to their marriage or their love, and it certainly wasn't something so horrible as so send her fleeing from a man who attempted to tarnish her character beyond redemption. So it makes Gemma seem silly and childish.
Then later, Livesey has Gemma do something else which is immature and petty -- quite out of character to what we've seen to this point. A little re-write could have moved the plot in the same direction without this out-of-synch moment.
Still, given the constraints it's not impossible to look past these minor failings for what's overall quite well done. I'll be looking for other work by Livesey.
Davina Porter narrates quite well, with well done voices for all the main characters. There's an odd, breath-y, falsetto child's voice at one point that doesn't work, but the rest is quite outstanding. Porter has a well-deserved reputation as one of the industry's best!
I loved this retelling of "Jane Eyre". It was emotional, heartbreaking, and romantic. Perhaps the ending was a bit too rushed, with all the rials and tribulations swept up neatly, but it was such a wonderful journey that I was ready for the heroine of the story to finally find happiness. Wonderful narration by Davina Porter enhanced the story. Definitely a favorite !
The first half of the novel which detailed Gemma's troubled childhood was very interesting. The second half which had to do with her "adult" life was filled with irrational and unexplainable character decisions and lackluster plot points.
The only thing I found a bit jarring at first was that the narrator's voice sounded too old to be a 10 year old girl, and there was no attempt to make the voice sound younger. I kept picturing Angela Lansbury speaking instead of an adolescent girl. However as Gemma got older, the difference in age between the voice and character became less bothersome. But overall it was a good performance.
It was so exciting and dramatic until the end when she went to Iceland. After that it was very dull and predictable. A apply ending but a drop from the rest of the book. She seemed to fall into extraordinarily perfect situations at every turn after leaving the school.
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