Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Chaperone vs The Flight of Gemma Hardy

By Dodie

THE CHAPERONE by Laura Moriarty:  This work of historical fiction is set in Wichita, Kansas in 1922. The reader is pulled right into this era with all of the period details - orphan trains, Prohibition, Flappers, and the onset of the Depression.  Cora Carlisle, aged 36 and a rather ordinary Wichita housewife, agrees to be the unlikely chaperone for 15 year-old Louise Brooks who is headed to New York to attend a summer session with the prestigious Denishaw School of Dancing.  (Readers might recognize the name of Louise Brooks who goes on to be a silent star in the early years of the movie industry.) This journey changes the lives of both women - in totally unanticipated ways. Two very different women - one a middle-aged empty nester and the other an adolescent on the brink of coming into her own life - find the answers they're looking for in New York City. This book looks at the myriad assortment of family relationships and their impact on the two characters' lives.  

Cora is a character I fell in love with. It was fascinating to see how her life played out. She was an admirable woman who managed to live a full life despite her many hardships. This book IS about "The Chaperone".  

THE FLIGHT OF GEMMA HARDY by Margot Livesey: This book is also historical fiction - set in the 1950's and 60's in Iceland and Scotland. Several reviews of this book call it a "re-inventive imagining of the classic, JANE EYRE."  It was a beautifully written book that I could not put down - for most of the book. However, as a reader, I simply could not go along with all of the many twists and turns that the author built into the plot. I could barely make myself finish the book because of this. 

I loved the story-line. Gemma Hardy becomes an orphan at 3 when her Icelandic fisherman father drowns at sea. Her kind Scottish uncle becomes her guardian and welcomes her into his family. Gemma enjoys an ordinary life with her adopted family until her uncle passes away. Overnight, circumstances change for the worse for Gemma and she is suddenly hated, resented, and ostracized by her Aunt and cousins. At barely 10 years old. she is sent off as a "working girl" to a private boarding school. When that school goes bankrupt, she is forced to take on a job as an au pair on Orkney Island for the forlorn 8-year-old niece of Hugh Sinclair - a London businessman and owner of the remote Blackbird House.  Gemma's life takes off and circumstances at the Blackbird House cause her to deal with relationships and ensuing "flights" that are rather challenging for an orphan with such a hardscrabble life. 

The beautiful prose and the magic realism of this book - set against the backdrop of Scotland and Iceland - made this a wonderful read. All was spoiled for me as the book neared its end. I simply could not accept the way the author developed the character of Gemma Hardy.  


This marks the end of the first round of the Niles Tournamant of Books. Of the twelve books that entered the contest, six remain:

The Yellow Birds
Beginner's Goodbye
Round House
Gone Girl
The Chaperone

In the first contest of round two, Donna considers Arcadia against The Yellow Birds.