From Jane Eyre to Gemma Hardy

Last night, I had the pleasure of hosting Margot Livesey at the library for a reading and booktalk. You know that Sourcebooks T-shirt, Authors Are My Rockstars? That pretty much sums it up for me, but I think I managed to be somewhat graceful and well-spoken (keeping the “likes” and “ums” to a minimum). Margot herself was just lovely (you can listen to an interview with her on the Leonard Lopate Show if you missed last night’s event), and I was so excited to do this program with her.

Check out the library blog post to read more about the books we discussed and recommended: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain, Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, and Gold by Chris Cleave.

After reading from The Flight of Gemma Hardy and recommending some other books, Livesey answered questions from the audience. One person asked how autobiographical the novel was; Livesey said, “Like Charlotte Bronte, I stole from my own life…I borrowed recklessly and exaggerated wildly.”

Livesey also discussed why she chose to “re-imagine a novel” that was published in 1847 and hasn’t been out of print since (165 years)? “It’s preposterous,” she allowed, but the story clearly has “enduring appeal,” the nature of which has to do with the combination of two old and powerful narratives: that of the orphan and that of the pilgrim/traveler on a journey. Jane Eyre – and Gemma Hardy – combine these two into one.

Also, by setting the story in the 1950s-1960s, Livesey was able to “write back” to Bronte, showing how far women have come (though, as she noted last night and in the interview linked to above, the “swinging ’60s” didn’t reach parts of Scotland until the 1970s). As a reader, it was deeply satisfying to see Gemma standing up for herself in ways that Jane couldn’t.

So, if you haven’t already read it, do add The Flight of Gemma Hardy (and also perhaps my other favorite Livesey novel, Eva Moves the Furniture) to your to-read list.

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