The Flight of Gemma Hardy came to me by way of my local book club. I hadn’t heard of it prior to cracking open the front cover (which I love, by the way) and instantly I was transported to another time and place.
As a very young girl, Gemma Hardy is orphaned, leaving her native Iceland to live with her uncle and his family in Scotland. After her uncle’s death a few years later, she is left with her wicked aunt and her conniving cousins. She finds a way to escape her miserable existence by getting a scholarship to a private boarding school. However, she quickly learns she is considered a working girl and has to juggle cleaning and cooking duties along with her studies.
After the school shuts down, Gemma finds a position as an au pair on the Orkney Islands. It is here where she comes into a sense of belonging yet she still longs to continue her studies and attend university. After meeting her charge’s uncle, she becomes attracted to the intriguing man who is also her employer. However, as their relationship develops, the secrets of their pasts begin to drive a wedge into their future. Gemma flees once she learns of Mr. Sinclair’s past betrayals and finds herself penniless, homeless, and desperate.
Can Gemma find a way to rise up and survive yet another setback? Is she able to reinvent herself while she is desperately seeking out her past?
This novel is set in Scotland and Iceland in 1950’s and 60’s and the attention to setting was wonderful; the stark landscape added to the emotional despair of Gemma’s life. The only thing I had a hard time grasping that it was the middle of the century and not the turn of the century. I think that was, however, due to the remoteness of Scotland and Iceland rather than a fault of the author.
Gemma was a character I wanted to hug and adopt into my own family. The trials and tribulations she goes through at such a young age were heartbreaking yet made me cheer for her all the harder. She was scrappy and smart… a true survivor. Perhaps one of the things I loved most about her was her ability to keep resentment at bay and keep looking to find answers about herself. She had such commendable character (sorry for the pun!) which made me admire her that much more. This novel is full of ups and downs as Gemma struggles with building a life for herself while trying to figure out the puzzle to her past.
Margot Livesey’s writing captivates, sending her readers on the journey right along with her characters. If you like novels such as The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton or The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, this is a book for you.