The Portable Veblen | BBRBF Book Club Outfit

The Portable Veblen | www.eccentricowl.com The Portable Veblen | www.eccentricowl.com

Welcome to the second installment of the BBRBF Book Club! If you missed our first read, click here, and be sure to check Sara Lily’s and Noelle’s blogs for their reviews! If you want to join us, next month we’ll be reading Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.

This book review was difficult. Not because I didn’t like the book, but because I nearly didn’t get the book. When Sara first suggested The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie, I did what I always do and checked my local library to see whether the current holds on it were crazy, or if I could get it right away. When I checked, there were nearly 30 holds on the book — and if for some odd reason you don’t know what that means, it means I was 30th in line to get it. I tentatively put it on hold and hoped that I would get it by April. But as we got closer and closer to our third Thursday in April, Veblen‘s wait list was not budging.

So I decided to buy it. I went on Barne’s and Noble’s site and saw that someone was selling The Portable Veblen for $3 plus shipping. I jumped at the chance, excited to have snagged the novel for so cheap when everywhere else the physical copies were around $20. The book arrived, and…

The Portable Veblen | www.eccentricowl.comThe Portable Veblen | www.eccentricowl.com

… it was the wrong book.The Portable Veblen, by Thorstien Veblen, was not The Portable Veblen that I wanted. Bewildered that there could be two books with such a unique title, I decided to wait it out, and we pushed our review date off to May. But May came around and still the wait list at the library was moving slowly. Too slowly. But then we realized that Kindle lets you lend books! So Sara, having the kindle version, quickly checked to see if she could send me her version.

But no. Veblen was not available for lending. So I caved in. I signed up for a free trial of Audible, and I chose the audiobook. I hate listening to audiobooks. I read far swifter than most people read, and I can’t concentrate when I don’t have the actual words running before my eyes. But it was better than nothing, and in my quest to save money I figured I could muddle through this one book.

And then I heard her voice. Readers, I am not a judgemental person. I have my opinions like everyone else, but I’m pretty forgiving to most faults. But this voice. Whomever read The Portable Veblen for this audiobook, I apologize, but this voice was like listening to a snobby GPS who spoke through its nose with nasally disdain for every word, and could only read at one mile per hour. I hated the book because this voice was so irritating. I’m sure if I knew the person reading it, I wouldn’t hate her voice, but I’m so sorry whomever you are: please don’t ever, ever read me any books.

So, because I didn’t want my opinion of the book to be influenced by my nails-on-a-chalkboard reaction to the voice reading it, I put off listening. I waited, and waited, and waited, and hoped that the library would magically alert me that my copy was finally available to pick up. And then I realized that it was Friday and my review was due the following Thursday. I scrambled for an idea, poked around online, found a few paperback copies that were around $13, and despaired: the shipping arrival date of all of the copies I found was June. I needed it by today! That just wouldn’t do. So I finally broke down and bought the Kindle version, which is something I rarely do because I prefer holding books and smelling the pages and caressing the paper and… I just like books, okay? In a fury, I read The Portable Veblen over the weekend and the beginning of the week. Triumphantly, I finished it yesterday morning and assembled my outfit, photographed these photos, and here we are today.

The Portable Veblen | www.eccentricowl.comThe Portable Veblen | www.eccentricowl.com

So, before we dive in to my review, here’s a snippet of the summary via Goodreads:

A young couple on the brink of marriage—the charming Veblen and her fiancé Paul, a brilliant neurologist—find their engagement in danger of collapse. Along the way they weather everything from each other’s dysfunctional families, to the attentions of a seductive pharmaceutical heiress, to an intimate tête-à-tête with a very charismatic squirrel.

The Portable Veblen | www.eccentricowl.comThe Portable Veblen | www.eccentricowl.com

I didn’t really know exactly what to expect when I was reading; I didn’t read the summary, and I dove in purely because Sara had chosen it and I know she has good taste in books. I was, at the very least, expecting it to be an intelligent, witty book as Sara has the ability to choose excellently written books in that respect.

And when I read the first few pages, my inner reading voice was still tainted by Miss Snobby GPS, so I was really afraid I wasn’t going to like the book. But the further in I got, the more I liked it. Veblen and Paul get engaged in the beginning. She seems to be quite unsure of the union, while he is over the moon that she acquiesced and reminds her of all the silly things she does that he loves. As the story goes on, we discover that Veblen’s mother is a classic hypochondriac whose controlling and volatile emotions have trained Veblen to tamp down whatever reactions she might have and act as the calm antithesis to her mother’s personality to keep life level.

She grew up a bit lonely, talking to squirrels and idolizing Thorstien Veblen for whom she was named, bit her arm whenever she was too upset but didn’t want to argue, and dreaded visiting her father, who was possibly abusive and constantly dragging her down for her quirks.

The Portable Veblen | www.eccentricowl.com

Paul, conversely, has two very supportive — if a bit hippie — parents, and a mentally disabled brother, all of whom he despises. He grew up under the shadow of his disabled older brother, and resents the fact that all of his parents efforts in their childhood were seemingly only for the betterment of Justin. Where Veblen values her relationship with her mother and is constantly bowing to Melanie’s every whim, Paul wants to throw off the ties of family and escape from the shadows of his childhood.

As they navigate planning a wedding around their dysfunctional families and the difficulties of having a mentally disabled brother and a hypochondriac, volatile mother, they find that they don’t quite know each other as well as they thought they did, and things begin to fall apart. Veblen latches on to a squirrel she begins to see as a friend and guardian angel, and Paul spirals downward in his view of his beloved fiancee while in his professional life, things seem to be working in his favor.

The Portable Veblen | www.eccentricowl.com

I didn’t expect Thorstien Veblen — whose copy of The Portable Veblen arrived at my door by my mistake — would be such a large part of the novel, but it is on his life and values that Veblen bases many of her actions and her own ideas about life. He shunned modern contraptions and consumerism, so in the same manner she clings to the house that she bought in shambles and fixed up and feels uneasy about Paul’s involvement in the money-making industry of modern medicine. Their ideas of how their wedding should be differ vastly; she wants simple, he wants ornate. His pride is tickled by the attention he recieves from one very affluent Cloris Hutmacher, while Veblen increasingly resists his hopes to have their wedding in Cloris’s proffered incredibly rich house.

He meets her mother and her stepfather, and after seeing how manic her mother can get, attempts to connect by offering the woman a clinical trial. Veblen, however, sees this as his acknowledging that her mother is a total nut, and reels with the realization that no one will ever truly love her mother as she does. She meets his family and wants to love them wholly, but Paul is insulted at her attempts to endear his family to him.

The Portable Veblen | www.eccentricowl.com

Throughout the entire book, the question is one that nearly all romances pose: will they, or won’t they? Will their differences tear them apart, or bring them together? Will their families sabotage their relationship, or strengthen it? Will they realize they are perfect for each other, or all wrong?

The Portable Veblen | www.eccentricowl.comThe Portable Veblen | www.eccentricowl.com

The tone of The Portable Veblenis a very gritty, real tone; I enjoyed the wit and intelligence as expected, and the multiple problems that Veblen and Paul face were at once unique and relatable. Though I did not grow up in a family who let random hippies crash in their home, nor did my father turn out to deteriorate mentally and no longer know himself or his child, I could still relate to the struggle of discovering things about yourself you didn’t know, and seeing the person you love in an entirely new light.

The Portable Veblen | www.eccentricowl.com

Top, shoes, and belt, thrifted | Skirt and brooch, vintage

And I really enjoyed the fact that the squirrel on the cover had a lot to do with the plot of the book. Obviously, I had to wear my nut brooch for this outfit, and I thought that the colors in this skirt perfectly matched the teal, pink, and yellow in the design. Luckily, I took these outfit pictures before eating lunch, because right as I finished up my fish and chips, I dropped my fork on my skirt and got a massive oil stain on it. Thankfully, it came out with some good old dish soap, but… like I needed one more thing to happen to this book review.

I hope you enjoy The Portable Veblen if you read it! If you’re sensitive to content, I will warn that there is a losing-virginity story in this book, as well as a smattering of curse words and some drug use in Paul’s childhood. I’m not super fond of sex in books so that would be my one point against Veblen, but that was a very small part of the whole story and it’s easy to skip over.

Don’t forget to check out Sara and Noelle’s outfits and reviews!

Happy Thursday!

ksig

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Me Before You | Book Review + Inspired Outfit

Me Before You | www.eccentricowl.comMe Before You | www.eccentricowl.com Me Before You | www.eccentricowl.com

It’s only fitting that I start off this month’s book reviews with a romance. And if you want a romance that will throw you into conflict and probably break your heart, then Me Before You is something you should read.

The synopsis (via the back of the book):

“Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living and exceedingly ordinary life — steady boyfriend, close family — who has hardly been farther afield than her tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex-Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life — big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel — and he is not interested in exploring a new one.

Will is acerbic, moody, bossy — but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, Lou sets out to show him that life is still worth living.”

Me Before You | www.eccentricowl.com

I shouldn’t have been skeptical of this book, because Sara Lily has an excellent record so far and this is the last of the novels she mailed me, but I was. I’m always a bit wary of romance novels, because I write them and I hate reading a novel that I end up thinking “I could have done better.” (Not that I think I am better, but that I go through the novel thinking “why didn’t they do this instead?” or “that sentence should be rewritten” and etc. I have an editorial mind when reading.)

I needn’t have been so afraid to be disappointed, though!

Me Before You | www.eccentricowl.com Me Before You | www.eccentricowl.com

Louisa Clark is the girl who is left behind and sitting in the shadow of those around her — her sister Katrina, who is considered the “smart” one, her boyfriend Patrick who is obsessed with training and fitness — and has no aspirations in her life. She likes her quiet little existence and boring little village, and doesn’t want to leave it. But when her job at the cafe where she’s worked for years is suddenly taken away, she is forced to find a new vocation. Not only for herself as income, but as the one in her family who can support them all. She is pressured to take a job caring for Will by her sister, who needs someone to pay school fees and who reminds her that her newly-unemployed parents desperately need someone to take the worry off their minds about money.

After the first day, she hates her job. Will hates her, she is bored out of her mind, and she doesn’t think she can take six months of caring for a man who sits staring out the window and has no desire to do anything outside of his home.

Me Before You | www.eccentricowl.com

But then one day, she decides not to put up with his crap. And then, after overhearing a private conversation between Will’s mother and sister, she realizes that she has been hired for a very specific purpose, and she only has six months to fulfill that purpose.

So, she sets out to make the next six months the best Will has had since his accident, to show him that even being wheelchair bound he can have a wonderful life, and to convince him that it’s worth living even when he needs someone to do every single thing for him.

Spoilers ahead, if you hadn’t already guessed his plans and I  might also give away the end of the book. You have been warned.

Me Before You | www.eccentricowl.com Me Before You | www.eccentricowl.com

As she figures out things they can do and ways to make him see how wonderful life is, Lou realizes she’s falling in love with Will, and Will feels the same. But, because of his plans to end his life at Dignitas (a real place, I had no idea), he is reluctant to let Lou throw her life at him in this way and constantly encourages her to widen her horizons. Through the book, he doesn’t know that she knows his plans until the very end.

I was really conflicted about the whole Dignitas thing. A central theme in Louisa’s journey to figuring out how to convince Will to live was a few people (and Will himself) saying “but it’s not your choice to convince him to live; it’s his choice to live or die.” Assisted suicide was the last thing in Will’s life that could be 100% his own decision, and through the novel he is fighting to keep the right to choose to end his existence. And I was conflicted about that.

For the novel’s purpose, it was a really good conflict to have and I was actually really satisfied with the ending because it was realistic, and I am also a sucker for a romance that ends tragically. Will didn’t change his mind in those short six months, despite falling in love with Lou, and that’s pretty real. I doubt someone who was paralyzed and wanted to end life would really change their minds after years of mental torture and absolutely hating that they could no longer be the person they were before — especially since that person was active, rich, respected, had many friends, and lived a very big life.

But obviously I am conflicted about assisted suicide. Any suicide. I just have to put it out there; it makes me so sad that for some life is so utterly hopeless that Dignitas actually exists to help them end themselves. That is such a deep, dark place one has to be in to make that decision.

Me Before You | www.eccentricowl.com

Earrings (old) c/o Oasap | everything else, thrifted

So as a tragic romance novel, I loved Me Before You. It was sweet, considerate, thought-provoking, and just a really entertaining read. And my conflict about Dignitas totally does not negate the fact that I want to go see the film when it comes out! (Side note, I finished reading the book and only a few days later realized they made a movie. And I think they cast it really well!)

Last but not least, on a whole different note, you’ve probably noticed my new theme by now. And if you don’t follow me on Social Media (WHY NOT: Insta, Facebook, Twitter) then you wouldn’t know that Lyndsey designed it and she is brilliant! She offered me a blog makeover as a Secret Santa gift, and I could not be more thrilled with the results. The header is hand-painted by her, and she did such an awesome job of working off of my inspiration board and my tagline to create something that is 100% me, from the colors to the mushrooms to the owl to… just everything. It’s so good!

So, go tell her how amazing she is. Because she deserves all the praise!

Happy Monday!

ksig

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Landline | Book Review + Inspired Outfit

Landline | www.eccentricowl.comLandline | www.eccentricowl.com

Well, I didn’t do my 4 books this month, but I DID get three checked off my list! Landline  by Rainbow Rowell was, again, sent to me by Sara Lily (who is basically fueling my book list right now, ha!) and it has been my favorite so far.

But before I get into the review, of course, here is the synopsis (via the back of the book):

“Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply – but that almost seems beside the point now. Maybe that was always beside the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect him to pack up the kids and go without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts…

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?”Landline | www.eccentricowl.comLandline | www.eccentricowl.com

I have never read anything by Rainbow Rowell, and honestly… I didn’t think it would be my thing. The summary certainly sounds like something I would like, but the first few parts were a little bit shaky and I wasn’t convinced that the story would be carried out well. To be frank, I found the first chapter (or part…? The chapters are broken up into days, occasionally) to be boring and I wasn’t too interested in anyone. But for the sake of at least getting three books read in January, I soldiered on!

Landline | www.eccentricowl.com

It begins with Georgie arriving home late again from work, and wandering through the house to find her husband,Neal, putting their girls to bed and letting one of them stay up a little late to watch cartoons. There is some background explanation, some reminiscing, and a little bit of setup as to how life goes in the house. It’s a very quiet, unassuming way to open a book, and almost too familiar to begin; I needed more to relate to the characters before I started out in a quiet night in their house.

But it picks up quickly after Neal leaves for Christmas at his mom’s house with their two girls, leaving Georgie behind to work on the TV deal she’s been waiting for her entire life. He’s mad, she’s uncertain and a bit selfish, and everything is up in the air.

Landline | www.eccentricowl.comLandline | www.eccentricowl.com

We follow Georgie through life, to work, where she is partner to her best friend, Seth, in working on the big TV deal they’ve been dreaming of forever.  Seth is quickly established as the pretty boy, the guy that Georgie met and somewhat categorized as her soul mate. In the early years of their friendship, she expected that she would just have to wait out his youthful and foolish years through the string of girls he dated/slept with, and someday they’d be a thing. It never happened.

I half expected something to happen between them as the story progressed, even though it’s increasingly obvious that Neal is Georgie’s soul mate through and through, and I was… well, happily surprised and also sort of right. I won’t spoil it for you, but… y’know. Read the book.

Landline | www.eccentricowl.com

As the story progresses, Georgie is reluctant to return to her cold, empty home so she instead starts to stay with her mom under the excuse that it’s closer to work. After Neal ignores all of her phonecalls, she gets frustrated with her always-dead iPhone (whose battery  no longer works, thus it has to be plugged in to be on) and resorts to using her old landline that still operates perfectly. And that’s when she gets a surprise. Somehow, by some twist of time, the landline calls Neal… before they were married. Right after she thought they broke up.

Georgie spends the next few days calling Neal over and over again, talking for hours on end, struggling at work, trying to figure out how to balance Seth and Neal — because both are semi-jealous of the other — and trying to figure out what she is supposed to do with this fortuitous magical phone. Because Neal-of-the-now is unhappy. He has never said it, but she knows he’s unhappy. They are living her life, in a place he’s not too fond of, doing all the things she dreamed of doing, and she’s been taking advantage of Neal’s nature to do what pleases her. So, she struggles to decide; is this magic phone meant to have her break it off with Neal before it started? To heal up the wounds she’s created? To somehow change their relationship for the better? As she works it over and talks to Neal, you can see her struggle, see how much she loves him, and also see how much he loves her.

Landline | www.eccentricowl.com

I was more and more enchanted by the simple problem and the deep love story as Rowell wrote about their past, how they met, how things went wrong, and how Georgie felt through it all. At the core, Landline is just a love story. A simple boy-meets-girl (or in this case, girl-stalks-boy-and-takes-over), couple-falls-in-love, and things-go-wrong story. But the way it’s written was absolutely captivating and I am not kidding you, I could not stop reading it. I started two days ago and finished most of it today.

Probably the highest compliment I could pay this book is that Landline is the type of book that makes me want to write.  And not because I want to do better (which can be the case a lot), but because I want to do to others what this book did to me. I love stories like this. Because at the heart, it’s not actually a romance; it’s the story of life. Real, messy, funny, heartbreaking, beautiful life.

Landline | www.eccentricowl.com Landline | www.eccentricowl.com

As for the outfit, the back of the book is the exact color of this skirt so obviously I had to wear it. I decided to cut out the lining that the skirt came with because it was all tight and bunchy and weird; thankfully I have a pink slip, which works perfectly! Once again, I never really would have thought to put all of these items together (maybe the belt and skirt) until I saw the book cover. I think reading 52 books this year might just be the catalyst to getting more creative with my wardrobe again!

I’ll be honest: this belt is actually just a bit too small — it belts, but doesn’t stay belted because my waist isn’t back to normal yet so it doesn’t have enough wrapping around to stay put. I may or may not have pinned it and made a hole in it. But… it was a 50 cent belt, so… oh well.

Landline | www.eccentricowl.com

Flower crown (old) c/o Choies | Tights and Tee, Target | Vintage brooch, skirt, and heels, thrifted

So now I am off to write, and then tomorrow I get to meet the very person who has sent me so many fantastic books! I am beyond thrilled, you guys! Sara Lily will be the third blogger I’ve met in person — first was Marlen, second Hilary — and I’m hoping that we can possibly do a little secret project I’ve had in the back of my mind for whenever I meet bloggers. You’ll only see what it is if I get it done with her and Hilary.

I hope you all have a great weekend! Happy (very late) Saturday!

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Where’d You Go, Bernadette? | Book Review + Inspired Outfit

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? | www.eccentricowl.comWhere'd You Go, Bernadette? | www.eccentricowl.com

And we’re here for another book review! I must confess, I haven’t read 4 books yet this month as I’d hoped, but I’m on my way to finishing the 3rd one, so that’s not too bad! I created a book list page and will link to each review + outfit when I’m done reading all the books. As you can see, I still have a lot of room on my list. So if you have a favorite book (no series/trilogies, please!) let me know! (I also haven’t added all the books I want to read, but I’ll get there!) I particularly enjoy fiction, romance, and fairytales.

This week’s book is, as you can see, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? and it was written by a fellow Washingtonian! I’ve seen the cover of this book all over the place for its art, and I’ve always been intrigued. So when SaraLily sent it (along with a few others) for me to read, I was pretty excited!

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? | www.eccentricowl.comWhere'd You Go, Bernadette? | www.eccentricowl.com

The synopsis (via Goodreads):

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.”

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? | www.eccentricowl.com

I didn’t know anything about this book before reading it, so when it opened up in the document-style writing of a report card and on to emails, I wasn’t too sure. I actually thought “I hope it doesn’t continue like this” because I felt that writing an entire story in the form of letters, emails, official documents, and the like would remove the personal touch or somehow make it feel like there was no focus. I thought it might be a bit incoherent to go between so many voices in a book.

But the further I got in, the better it got. And the more hilarious it got! The book’s villain, Audrey Griffin, is a holier-than-thou school mom whose plans against Bernadette catapult things into chaos. The feud between Bernadette and the “gnats of Galer street” (aka the other school moms) is expertly woven so that, from an outside perspective, it might seem like Bernadette is making rash and horrible decisions that put herself and others in (hilarious) danger. But from the inside, you see a completely different story, and as Bernadette is driven further and further into her reclusiveness you begin to see that she is brilliant, a little off-kilter, and totally lost.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? | www.eccentricowl.com

You also 100% feel for Bee and Bernadette, and even the husband/dad Elgin, whose decisions are very misled and a bit wrong, but mostly motivated by a concern for the good of his wife and his family. Semple does a fantastic job of digging into each character to create a story that is human, hilarious, and heartwarming. Where’d You Go, Bernadette may just be on my very short “Favorite Books” list now!

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? | www.eccentricowl.com  Where'd You Go, Bernadette? | www.eccentricowl.comWhere'd You Go, Bernadette? | www.eccentricowl.com

As for the outfit, I never would have put these colors together until I read the book; I don’t have a yellow headscarf (surprisingly, because I have a TON) but I knew I had to wear this skirt and especially these sunglasses! I had forgotten I also wanted to wear red lips like Bernadette on the cover, but in my hurry to get dressed while both kids were happy, I totally forgot.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? | www.eccentricowl.com

Sunglasses, vintage, gift | everything else, thrifted

I am so glad SaraLily sent me this book, and I’m excited to read the others that she sent! Have you read Where’d You Go, Bernadette? What did you think?

Happy Monday!

P.S. Asa photobombed me quite a few times. As you can see here. He also stole my sunglasses, the little stinker.

PPS – if you’re not following my Facebook page or Twitter, you should! I am trying to use them both to share more things that you won’t see here on the blog. As well as Instagram, which is basically overrun with my kids. 😉

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Inspired outfit/Book Review: The Flight of Gemma Hardy

Inspired outfit/Book Review: The Flight of Gemma Hardy | www.eccentricowl.com

I grabbed this book at a garage sale because 1. I liked the cover, 2. I’m looking for new books to read and can’t get to the library often, and 3. I very quickly skimmed the first few sentences of the summary and it sounded interesting.

I started reading it that night, and was immediately struck by how very similar to Jane Eyre it was, which confused me for a second as the part of the summary I’d read didn’t mention it being a retelling. So I scanned the back again, and there at the top as a review for the book was the statement: “In The Flight of Gemma Hardy, Margot Livesey offers a new telling of Jane Eyre, for which no contemporary writer is better suited.”

Right.Inspired outfit/Book Review: The Flight of Gemma Hardy | www.eccentricowl.com

I have mentioned before that Jane Eyre is my absolute favorite book, so once I knew that this was supposed to be a modern retelling, my inner critic was alerted and I read this book with a very judgmental eye. Probably more so than if it wasn’t supposed to be an homage to my favorite story. So keep in mind, this review might be tinged with prejudice, because I give no leniency where Jane Eyre retellings are concerned. (ha!)

The Summary (from the back of the book): “Taken from her native Iceland to Scotland in the early 1950’s when her widower father drowns at sea, young Gemma Hardy comes to live with her kindly uncle and his family. But his death leaves Gemma under the care of her resentful aunt, and she suddenly finds herself an unwelcome guest. Surviving oppressive years at a strict private school, Gemma ultimately finds a job as an au pair to the eight-year-old niece of Mr. Sinclair on the Orkney Islands — and here, at the mysterious and remote Blackbird Hall, Gemma’s greatest trial begins.”Inspired outfit/Book Review: The Flight of Gemma Hardy | www.eccentricowl.comInspired outfit/Book Review: The Flight of Gemma Hardy | www.eccentricowl.com

First things first, and this is just my prejudice speaking: I really don’t like the names she chose to replace Edward Rochester and Thornfield Hall. Hugh Sinclair of Blackbird Hall just doesn’t quite have the same mystery to them. But that could just be my everlasting love for Rochester speaking.

The book opens much as Jane Eyre does, with mention of a walk (my first clue to its classically based background), an introduction of Gemma’s cousins (Will, Veronica, Louise — second clue) with whom she of course has a less-than-favorable relationship, an explanation of her uncle’s death and her aunt’s sudden change of attitude, and how she had become no better than a servant in the house after her beloved uncle died.

It then eventually moves on to Claypoole boarding school where Gemma is ensconced as a working girl — a girl who is a charity case and works off her debt to the school by way of working the kitchens, cleaning, doing laundry, and performing every other menial task possible besides taking classes, studying, and passing exams — amongst ten or so others, all of whom are viewed as less important than the regular (paying) attendees of the school. Life is hard for Gemma, as the other working girls follow the lead of Ross (last name), who is portrayed as a dull bully and the leader of the group, and she is oppressed by them to some extent. There is of course the Helen character, Miriam, who becomes Gemma’s only friend (sadly, not redheaded as she was in JE), who eventually dies, and whose death brings Gemma a way to communicate with the outside world as the girls of Claypoole are not allowed outside contact. (To hide the horrible conditions of the school.) Inspired outfit/Book Review: The Flight of Gemma Hardy | www.eccentricowl.com

The entire plot of the first part of the book — it’s broken into three acts — very much follows the plot of Jane Eyre, if in a less detailed and more 1950’s appropriate way. Unlike Jane Eyre, there are small touches of sexual innuendos throughout — the girls ganging up on one working girl and pulling off her bra to expose her, Gemma coming upon two of the others one by one “laying” under a farm boy in the summer between the rows of raspberries, and other small innuendos that Gemma, being very young and innocent, does not understand. I am guessing this was a way for the author to modernize the book, but I nearly wished she had left these things out. To me, it was a way to demean the story, making it more crudely reality based, and less of an eloquent tale.

As the years pass, Gemma’s stubbornness gets her through classes that teachers are determined to hold her back in, and to everyone’s surprise she graduates with high marks, as she is a very bright girl. Following the suggestion of the one trustworthy teacher at the school (the only one who does not eat out of the headmistress’s hand), she sends out inquiries to become a nanny, and thus we enter part two. Inspired outfit/Book Review: The Flight of Gemma Hardy | www.eccentricowl.com

As with Jane Eyre, Gemma stays at Blackbird Hall for many months before ever meeting Mr. Sinclair; the housekeeper is Mr. Sinclair’s very distant cousin, and Gemma’s student, Nell, is badly schooled. Unlike Jane Eyre, Vicky (housekeeper) has a stern and loutish brother, Seamus, who works the grounds, and Nell is the daughter of Mr. Sinclair’s sister, who died mysteriously. As well, it takes Gemma several weeks to even make a connection with Nell, as Nell has run wild and free and entirely untrained, and refuses to sit for lessons until Gemma has the idea to begin reading a book aloud. When she gains Nell’s audience and the girl demands more, Gemma strikes a deal: one hour of book reading a day in return for morning lessons.

Overall, the story follows the premise of Jane Eyre loosely, adding once again more indications of sex with Gemma’s friends who speak of such things, and Todd, the brother of Gemma’s friend, who briefly pursues Gemma, kisses her, tells her she’s pretty, and, tries to put his hand down her shirt. (Later, by way to Scrabble letters while they play as a team against a few others, he secretly spells out “sex later” and she unwittingly spells “yes” a few moves down the game). But on the same night, Gemma comes upon Mr. Sinclair, whose car broke down and who, while changing the tire, sprains his finger. After short conversation, they part ways, only for Gemma to find out, of course, who Mr. Sinclair is.

Inspired outfit/Book Review: The Flight of Gemma Hardy | www.eccentricowl.com

Throughout the rest of the book, we meet the few other characters who follow the basic premise of Jane Eyre — Coco, who is Blanche’s replacement, and Archie, Helen, and Pauline, who replace St John Rivers and his sisters, Diana and Mary. However, instead of being a tool to spark jealousy or discern whether Gemma has feelings for Mr. Sinclair, Coco is merely a flight of fancy for Sinclair; something to boost his male ego (and she is, of course, a gold digger). Very briefly, Gemma silently implores Sinclair “please don’t” when she spies him leaning in for what appears to be a kiss (it doesn’t happen), and later when someone suggests that perhaps Coco and Sinclair have gone to bed together.

Unfortunately, there is very little indication of a connection between Sinclair and Gemma, so at this point her silent pleading seems like little else than that she views Coco as an incredibly airheaded gold digger, and her concern is more that she does not wish Nell to be subjected to the woman as a mother than that she views Mr. Sinclair as too good for the woman. (In a small way, perhaps she does, but it is not a prevalent point.)

And this is where my criticism begins. Sadly, Gemma and Sinclair have very, very little of Jane and Rochester’s relationship. The point that Coco enters the scene is really the first inkling of any type of concern Gemma has for Sinclair, and the chapters including the former woman are so short that we do not get to delve into whether Gemma’s prejudice against Coco is for her own feelings as well as Nell’s. Coco is hence dispatched swiftly, with a short scene wherein she’s misled to think that Sinclair is bankrupt, and the entire inclusion of her in the story does very little to further the relationship of the two main characters.Inspired outfit/Book Review: The Flight of Gemma Hardy | www.eccentricowl.com

Then, when Gemma and Sinclair do finally connect romantically, the relationship comes on very suddenly, and lasts a very short three or four chapters. To me, it was literally one scene with Sinclair and Gemma alone, a storm that causes them to kiss, a flighty relationship, and the revelation of his great secret. (Complaint: there was no modernized version of the greatest, most romantic proposal ever which you should watch here. *swoon*)

The secret, which I will not give away here for those of you who do want to read the book, caused my greatest disappointment. It was nowhere near as shocking or romantic (if you can call Rochester’s secret that) as a crazy wife in the attic; it was not even dramatic enough of a secret to, in my opinion, cause Gemma to neglect her love for Sinclair entirely and run away. It was much more understandable, a mistake made by an 18 year old in order to avoid what he thought would be insanity, and there is no wife, child, or even murder involved (not that there was murder in Jane Eyre, but that would have made it better.) Gemma’s entire reason for deciding not to marry Sinclair after the exposure of his past’s secrets is that he lied to her. Though, to be honest, he didn’t even lie to her in any way that contradicted his secret; nothing he said or implied was in any way opposite his past, he merely did not tell her all. And why should he, when what he “did” happened 23 years prior and was an attempt to benefit more than just himself?

It was at this point that the book lost me a bit, as I had been enjoying the story up until Sinclair and Gemma’s romance began. So, after deciding that she could not marry a “liar”, Gemma flees, becomes destitute and homeless, and is found by Archie, Hannah, and Pauline.

Unlike the book, instead of being a clergy brother and his two sisters, Archie is a postman addicted to cigarettes but with the same “I don’t do people well” attitude as St. John, and Hannah and Pauline are not sisters, but lovers. The change in Archie suits the story well; the change in Hannah and Pauline barely affects the plot at all except to make you wonder whether Gemma, like Jane, would discover that perhaps Archie and Hannah were her cousins. But then you remember that she is from Iceland, and in that land lie any possibilities of her having more family than she knows.

Inspired outfit/Book Review: The Flight of Gemma Hardy | www.eccentricowl.com

Dress, from Sarah’s (closed) shop | belt, from a skirt | shoes, Modcloth | book, garage sale | glasses, c/o Firmoo | vintage brooch, thrifted

For a while with them, Gemma works as a nanny to a young boy whose grandmother needs help caring for him as her husband had a stroke (I think?) and needs full-time care. After many months of saving up and healing, a proposal from Archie that she realizes she does not want to accept — and, by the way, there is more relationship development between Archie and Gemma though you know he won’t ever love her than there was between Sinclair and Gemma, a sad point — , and a rash decision, Gemma decides to go to Iceland on her own to find out if she had any family at all other than her parents.

Of course, being a Jane Eyre retelling, she does discover family and a small inheritance; she does hear Sinclair calling out to her on the wind (at least there’s that), and she decides not to marry Archie.

And then comes the end, which was the second most disappointing way to end something based on Jane Eyre. I won’t give it away exactly, but let’s just say… with no crazy wife in his attic, there is no way for Gemma to return to find a destitute and damaged Sinclair regretting his youthful decisions and insisting that she should not tie herself to him as an old cripple. Instead, he is hale and hearty, though he did miss her, and… well, you’ll have to read it for yourself. It was not that romantic of an end to the story, and I very heartily wished Sinclair’s secret had been as dramatic as Rochester’s, because then the ending would not have been so diluted from its origins.

Overall, though, it was a book worth reading, and had Jane Eyre not been my favorite book, I would probably have less criticism for it. It’s well written, pays homage to its origins well without being an exact copy, and is still an interesting story despite its shortcomings due to plot changes. Nothing will ever match up to the sweep and romance of Jane Eyre in my opinion, but I am glad that I grabbed The Flight of Gemma Hardy because it proved to be a good way to spend a few sick days, and inspired me to start writing again. And, despite the critiques I have, I would recommend it to anyone looking for a classic story with a modern twist.

Have you read the book, or any other by Margot Livesey? What did you think?

I hope you all have a fantastic Thursday!

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