I, Iago by Nicole Galland – Book Review

I, Iago by Nicole Galland
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks, and imprint of HarperCollins

Over the years, Iago has earned himself a reputation in Venice as someone who tells the truth at all times, no matter the cost. This is hardly flattering, Venice is built upon deception and at most half-truths, but for Iago truthfulness has often been a godsend, getting him out of scrapes from childhood to his career in the military. His honesty also helped him woo his wife, his lovely and beloved Emilia. His reputation is most helpful, though, when Venice brings in a new man to head up the army, General Othello.

Most leaders of the Venetian army – indeed, most soldiers – are not Venetian, but Othello, a man of African origin, is more foreign than most. He is referred to throughout Venice as Othello the Moor and seen as a sort of novelty. The elaborate and deceptive Venetian practices frustrate him, and Iago’s honesty is a welcome respite from the drudgeries of society. As such, he quickly promotes Iago to ensign and treats him more as a good friend than as a subordinate. Iago is a jealous man, however, and when Othello begins to show genuine interest in people other than Iago and Emilia, Iago begins to plot to return himself to what he sees as his rightful place in the general’s esteem.

Othello is not one of the Shakespearean plays that I have read. I was aware of the Venetian setting, and the love affair between Othello and Desdemona, reviled by those around them at least partly for the elements of racial miscegenation. Of Iago, I knew only that he was the villain, not even what he had done to be considered such. It is always questionable whether classic retellings such as I, Iago will work well for readers who are less familiar with the source material, but Galland manages to create a story that stands well on its own, without prior knowledge of Othello being necessary. By virtue of being able to tell you how it holds up if you are less than familiar with Othello, I of course cannot accurately say how it stands up if you are familiar with the play, but it does seem that Galland has stuck closely enough to the sketches of the plot that I, Iago will succeed for those readers as well.

There is a bit of a slow start to I, Iago. The first hundred or so pages are introducing you to Iago’s character throughout his childhood and early military career. They do give a very good shown-not-told foundation to who exactly Iago is and why he will later act the way he does, but there isn’t terribly much that happens, so they don’t move particularly quickly. Once Iago meets Emilia, and soon thereafter Othello, the story picks up to the point of becoming a page turner.

In I, Iago, Galland takes the reader into the psyche of a man who has been reviled for the past 400 years. You will likely still not agree with the actions he takes, but at least you will understand his motivations. Recommended.

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Source: Publisher, via LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
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The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey – Book Review

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesy
Published by Harper Books, an imprint of HarperCollins

For Gemma Hardy, life is full of tragedy. First her Scottish mother dies near their home in Iceland, then the sea claims her fisherman father. For many years after the death of her parents Gemma did find safety in her uncle’s home, but upon his untimely death her life truly falls apart. Suddenly Gemma is left with nothing more than a hostile aunt and disapproving cousins. Just when she thinks she can stand life at home no longer, Gemma is offered the opportunity to escape, to go off to boarding school as a working student.

Livesey makes no secret of the fact that The Flight of Gemma Hardy is a retelling of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. The first half of the book, in particular, stays very close to Bronte’s original. In fact, for the first two hundred pages are so, the only significant differences between The Flight of Gemma Hardy and Jane Eyre are the setting (Scotland), the time period (1950s), and the names of the characters.

Gemma’s story begins to diverge more from Jane’s when she is forced to leave school and make her way in the world. Finding a job as an au pair in the Orkneys seems to be a godsend for Gemma. She and her charge, Nell, get along suprisingly well, particularly as Nell ran off her previous nanny. With her employer away in London, Gemma is for the first time essentially the mistress of her own life – until Mr. Sinclair returns and sweeps her away.

Livesey is an incredibly talented writer, her prose flows beautifully and she has re-crafted Bronte’s story in a way that, in all honesty, makes far more sense than the original. The plot holes are fixed and the deus ex machina issues of Jane Eyre virtually eliminated. There are only two real problems in The Flight of Gemma Hardy. The first is Gemma’s reaction upon discovering Mr. Sinclair’s secret, which is not nearly bad enough to justify running away, although Gemma does it in a much more sensible way than Jane. The second is simply how closely The Flight of Gemma Hardy sticks to Jane Eyre for so much of the story. For a reader who has not read Jane Eyre, or who has not read it recently, The Flight of Gemma Hardy would likely be a smashing success, but for one who has read it either frequently or recently, the fact that what Livesey has created is more of a modernization than a retelling may very well remove some of the power of the book.

I truly wanted to love The Flight of Gemma Hardy, but having just read Jane Eyre approximately a year earlier it was difficult for the first half of the story to catch my attention. When Livesey’s plot diverged more completely from Jane Eyre I did truly enjoy it, and I’m not entirely sure that anyone but Livesey could have pulled that off. However, I wish her creativity could have been showcased a bit more in the way she retold Bronte’s original. Recommended, particularly if you are well removed from Jane Eyre.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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