Saturday 29 May 2021

Great Circle - Maggie Shipstead


From the night she is rescued as a baby out of the flames of a sinking ship; to the day she joins a pair of daredevil pilots looping and diving over the rugged forests of her childhood, to the thrill of flying Spitfires during the war, the life of Marian Graves has always been marked by a lust for freedom and danger.

In 1950, she embarks on the great circle flight, circumnavigating the globe. It is Marian's life dream and her final journey, before she disappears without a trace.

Half a century later, Hadley Baxter, a brilliant, troubled Hollywood starlet is irresistibly drawn to play Marian Graves, a role that will lead her to probe the deepest mysteries of the vanished pilot's life.

An enthralling journey over oceans and continents and a drama of exhilarating power, GREAT CIRCLE is perfect for book clubs and fans of William Boyd and Donna Tartt.

What did I think?

I had to stop and gather my thoughts before writing my review of Great Circle as it's quite a chunky book with a lot to take in.  It's quite dry in places, as historical fiction often is, but I think it is well worth persevering with if you find you're struggling.  With a wonderful map in the opening pages, this is the story of female pilot Marian Graves and her mysterious disappearance which later becomes the subject of a Hollywood movie.

Although it did manage to hold my interest throughout, the book has its peaks and troughs.  The beginning is breathtaking as we are introduced to Marian and her twin brother Jamie in incredibly difficult circumstances which sees them cruelly separated from their parents.  I enjoyed watching the twins growing up, or dragging themselves up as their uncle doesn't put himself out for them.  Marian and Jamie are perfect opposites: Marian is an adventurer and risk taker whilst Jamie is artistic and compassionate.

Hadley is the actress who has landed the role of Marian in a film and to be honest I found Hadley to be selfish and shallow, however, I think these characteristics could apply to many in the film industry as it's such a cutthroat business.  I never really warmed to Hadley despite seeing the seedier side of movie making and what she is forced to do to get a starring role.  It all felt rather flat and I didn't look forward to Hadley's chapters at all.  Talking of Hadley's chapters, hers are numbered whereas Marian's are not and I found that having several chapters between numbered chapters really interrupted my reading rhythm.  I am very particular about numbers so this was probably only annoying to me.

Marian's compulsion to fly is beautifully portrayed.  Needing to fly higher, faster and farther is a complete addiction for her; like an alcoholic needing just one more drink, Marian will never be able to slake her thirst for flying.  I don't think she was looking for fame, she really was born to be a wanderer.  Jamie's story is beautifully written too; he is definitely my favourite character and I experienced a wealth of emotions as his story played out.

Whilst Hadley brings authenticity to Marian's story, Marian is a fictional character but there are some real life heroines mentioned in the book.  I didn't realise that there were so many women pilots during WW2 as I raced off to google Jackie Cochran.  I love books that lead me to discover fascinating facts and I can't believe that I hadn't heard of Jacqueline Cochran before.

I could write so much more about the book as there is a lot covered but it's well worth discovering these elements for yourself.  Filled with adventure, Great Circle is an epic historical fiction novel spanning both decades and the globe.  I'm really glad that I read it.  

I received a gifted copy as part of a Tandem Collective Readalong and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

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