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Great Circle

by Maggie Shipstead

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead X
Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 2021, 608 pages

    Apr 2022, 672 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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There are currently 3 reader reviews for Great Circle
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Power Reviewer
Cathryn Conroy

A Brilliant Novel! Complex Characters, an Exhilarating Plot, and an Incredible Ending
Complex characters. An exhilarating plot. An incredible ending. This fascinating blend of fiction and history will not only keep readers turning the pages, but also pausing to really think about the inner meaning of what just happened.

Written by Maggie Shipstead, this is the totally fictitious story of pilot Marian Graves, who learned to fly in the heady days of the barnstormers, worked as an Alaskan bush pilot, flew with the Royal Air Force, and eventually did an Amelia Earhart-type turn flying the great circle in the Earth's longitude before disappearing forever. Marian's story, which begins in the 1920s, is alternated with that of Hadley Baxter, a modern-day scandal-plagued Hollywood actress who signs on to play the role of Marian in a movie. Marian's story is the crux of the book, and Shipstead doesn't waste any time in getting readers hooked on the action and adventure—from a sinking and burning ship in which an infant Marian and her twin brother, Jamie, are rescued to their quick dispatch to a bachelor uncle living in Missoula, Montana to their colorful childhood and dramatic adulthood. The story is peppered with bootleggers, drunks, prostitutes, and gamblers. A less talented author would be giving her poor readers whiplash, but Shipstead is always in control of both the plot and the characters.

And what characters these are! I'm sure that many have Googled Marian Graves thinking she had to be real. She's not, but she brilliantly pops alive on the pages of this masterful book.

Oh, and the writing. It's exquisite. There is a reason this novel was longlisted for the Booker Prize.

Bonus: The ending is incredible. (No peeking!)

While this is a fascinating study and reflection on the history of women pilots, it is most of all a reflection on what it really means for any woman to have determination over her own life, her own decisions, her own fate. It's a tribute to the real meaning of feminism, while also being an intelligent, riveting, and romantic story.
Power Reviewer
Tony C.

Get Swept Up In This
"Great Circle" by Maggie Shipstead weaves together two stories about a revolutionary female pilot with a troubled background and the actress selected to portray her. The author wastes no time in illuminating the horrors of incest, hypersexuality, and death. Both tales have a great deal of sadness, but you learn why we need to hear them together immediately. As with any story like this worth its salt, you enjoy one timeline just enough that you care but want to know what is going on in the other one.

Marian, the aspiring pilot, battles through issues like gender identity and loss. At the same time, Hadley, the actress, struggles with fame and the commitments associated with singing onto a franchise past its time. Of course, neither is perfect, but they have an added focus on them, one because of a small town and the other because of public scrutiny. Like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown, you know their tendencies will lead to more problems, but you care enough to root for them.

The character development is top-notch, and you always want to know more about Hadley, Marian, and twin brother Jamie. Shipstead wastes absolutely no time pointing out how all main characters have a tough lot in life and making you doubt their success. The writer uses the storyline to show the bond between twins, the struggle of flying planes as a woman in the 1930s, and the internal conflict involved when a movie star must decide to pursue work in which they find her passion. A great deal happens in 593 pages.

"Great Circle" refers to a pilot's tight arc to travel from one end of the world to another. It has a significant double meaning as we walk through the circle of life with Marian and Hadley from incredible highs and devastating lows. My great process has had both, but Marian goes through sexual assault and an abusive relationship, and you wonder how she carries on with her life. Her ability to fly, unfortunately, remains tied to her marriage, so she begrudgingly goes along with a horrible, subservient arrangement.

Many fans could find something to love here: aircraft fanatics, feminists, World War II buffs, and twins, believe it or not, will relate to what Marian endures. The book reads like an epic but comes across as much shorter due to its considerable timeframe. When we finally transition into wartime, it simply seems just another obstacle. Still, Marian and her twin brother Jamie find ways to contribute and realize how many Americans did the same thing then. War is hell, and authors keep finding new ways to remind us of that.

(Note: often, I will take notes as I read if I have thought that could be relevant. Do not think you know the book's ending or meaning until it ends. Trust me).
Veronica Earley

You can read the synopsis telling the story. I'm here to say it is an awesome story. Full of page turning adventure, read at your own risk characters, breath-taking country, This story is written so well. All 600 plus pages are amazing. Well done.
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Beyond the Book:
  Elinor Smith

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