The conceit of this book is that it is Jane Eyre for the modern age. Gemma Hardy, whose father is Scottish and mother Icelandic, is orphaned at an early age and she is sent from Iceland to Scotland to live with her father's kind brother and his family. The aunt hates her and after the uncle dies Gemma is sent to a boarding school as a working student. When the school closes, she takes a job in the Orkney Islands as a governess for the orphaned niece of the current master of the manor, Mr. Sinclair. Yes, Gemma and Mr. Sinclair fall in love and, yes, she discovers a secret about him that causes her to run away, and no, it's not a crazy wife in the attic.
This is a slip of a tale but it is more than Jane Eyre transported to 1960s Britain. Gemma for much of the book is truly alone without any safety net (emotionally or financially). She is not a plucky heroine but a girl who has no choice but to put one foot in front of the other and figure it out. Livesey movingly conveys her loneliness and the few touching connections she makes with others along the way as well as her desperation and resentment of the hand she’s been dealt. She is no Pollyanna but she is resilient. This is not so much a romance as it is Gemma’s journey to maturity and a better understanding of both herself and the people around her. This is not a great work of art, but it is an entertaining little book to escape with on a lazy summer day.