Summary and book reviews of Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

Great Circle

by Maggie Shipstead

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead X
Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
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  • Published:
    May 2021, 608 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

An unforgettable story of a daredevil female aviator determined to chart her own course in life, at any cost - Great Circle spans Prohibition-era Montana, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, New Zealand, wartime London, and modern-day Los Angeles.

After being rescued as infants from a sinking ocean liner in 1914, Marian and Jamie Graves are raised by their dissolute uncle in Missoula, Montana. There--after encountering a pair of barnstorming pilots passing through town in beat-up biplanes--Marian commences her lifelong love affair with flight. At fourteen she drops out of school and finds an unexpected and dangerous patron in a wealthy bootlegger who provides a plane and subsidizes her lessons, an arrangement that will haunt her for the rest of her life, even as it allows her to fulfill her destiny: circumnavigating the globe by flying over the North and South Poles.

A century later, Hadley Baxter is cast to play Marian in a film that centers on Marian's disappearance in Antarctica. Vibrant, canny, disgusted with the claustrophobia of Hollywood, Hadley is eager to redefine herself after a romantic film franchise has imprisoned her in the grip of cult celebrity. Her immersion into the character of Marian unfolds, thrillingly, alongside Marian's own story, as the two women's fates--and their hunger for self-determination in vastly different geographies and times--collide. Epic and emotional, meticulously researched and gloriously told, Great Circle is a monumental work of art, and a tremendous leap forward for the prodigiously gifted Maggie Shipstead.

Little America III, Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica
March 4, 1950

I was born to be a wanderer. I was shaped to the earth like a seabird to a wave. Some birds fly until they die. I have made a promise to myself: My last descent won't be the tumbling helpless kind but a sharp gannet plunge—a dive with intent, aimed at something deep in the sea.

I'm about to depart. I will try to pull the circle up from below, bringing the end to meet the beginning. I wish the line were a smooth meridian, a perfect, taut hoop, but our course was distorted by necessity: the indifferent distribution of islands and airfields, the plane's need for fuel.

I don't regret anything, but I will if I let myself. I can think only about the plane, the wind, and the shore, so far away, where land begins again. The weather is improving. We've fixed the leak as best we can. I will go soon. I hate the never-ending day. The sun circles me like a vulture. I want a respite of stars.

Circles are wondrous because they are ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Why do you think Marian wants to fly around the world? Have you ever wanted to take a major risk without quite knowing why?
  2. What do you think Hadley wants from playing the role of Marian? Do you think her expectations are met?
  3. How is Marian's life shaped by her experiences of love? Do you think she really wants to love someone? What about Hadley?
  4. What do you think is Marian's idea of freedom? What is yours?
  5. How does Marian's relationship with her brother, Jamie, evolve over time? How would you react if you had a sibling like Marian?
  6. Do you think Peregrine is going to be a good movie?
  7. How do you think Marian was shaped by her unusual childhood? Do you think she was bruised or strengthened by the fact that she never knew her parents?
  8. ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

I occasionally find dual timelines confusing or annoying. Such was not the case with Great Circle. Switches between the two stories are so expertly crafted I'm hard-pressed to name a novel that accomplishes this feat more skillfully. At around 600 pages, the book is also quite long; however, I never felt like it was a slog. I'll sometimes come across a doorstopper and think about how it could have been edited into a more manageable length, but not this time; there's not a single sentence I'd have wanted left out. Although I wouldn't call it a page-turner, its pacing is excellent and it kept me engaged, start to finish...continued

Full Review Members Only (636 words).

(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

Washington Post
Great Circle is a relentlessly exciting story about a woman maneuvering her way between tradition and prejudice to get what she wants. It's also a culturally rich story that takes full advantage of its extended length to explore the changing landscape of the 20th century...Whether you're planning a trip or settling in for a staycation, Great Circle is my top recommendation for this summer.

New York Times
Great Circle starts high and maintains altitude. One might say it soars...Great Circle can sometimes feel a bit baggy, but that seems to be Shipstead's intention. This is a book explicitly invested in sweep...What's so impressive is how deeply we come to care about each of these people, and how the shape and texture of each of their stories collide to build a story all its own.

BookPage (starred review)
Shipstead sweeps readers from earth to sky and back again...Shipstead's exhilarating, masterful depictions of Marian's flights feel like shared experiences that invite readers to contemplate both magnitude and majesty. Great Circle is sure to give even firmly earthbound readers a new appreciation for those who are compelled ever skyward.

Booklist
Transcendent...A rolling, roiling epic...Through the interwoven stories of impetuous flyer Marian Graves and flavor-of-the-month actress Hadley Baxter, Shipstead ponders the motivating forces behind acts of daring defiance, self-fulfillment and self-destruction. An ambitious, soaring saga—[Shipstead] takes her characters to dizzying heights, drawing readers into lives of courage and mystery.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[A] breathtaking epic of a female aviator...This is a stunning feat.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Whether Shipstead is creating scenes in the Prohibition-era American West, in wartime London, or on a Hollywood movie set, her research is as invisible as it should be, allowing a fully immersive experience. Ingeniously structured and so damn entertaining; this novel is as ambitious as its heroines—but it never falls from the sky.

Author Blurb J. Courtney Sullivan
Great Circle is a masterpiece...one of the best books I've ever read

Reader Reviews

Veronica Earley

ADDITIVE
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...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Elinor Smith

Black and white photo of Elinor Smith wearing a tie, leather jacket, and aviator hat with gogglesGreat Circle features an account of a fictional early aviatrix named Marian Graves, and author Maggie Shipstead inserts snippets of aviation history throughout the narrative. One woman frequently mentioned is Elinor Smith, aka "The Flying Flapper of Freeport."

Elinor Regina Patricia Ward was born in New York City in 1911 to parents who were in the entertainment industry. Her mother was a singer before her marriage, while her father, Tom Ward, was a successful comedian, singer and dancer on the vaudeville circuit. He later changed the family's surname to Smith and toured Great Britain and France as the Scarecrow in a stage production of The Wizard of Oz.

Tom Smith also loved flying, and exposed his children, Elinor and Joe, to ...

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Readalikes

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