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Great Circle

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An alternate cover edition for ISBN 9780525656975 can be found here.

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

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.

608 pages, Hardcover

First published May 4, 2021

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About the author

Maggie Shipstead is the New York Times-bestselling author of the novels Astonish Me and Seating Arrangements, winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize and the L.A. Times Book Prize for First Fiction. A third novel, Great Circle, will be published in May 2021. She is a graduate of Harvard and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford, and the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Her writing has appeared in many places, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, Travel + Leisure, Departures, Condé Nast Traveler, Outside, The Best American Short Stories, and The Best American Sports Writing. In 2012 and 2018, she was a National Magazine Award finalist for fiction. She lives in Los Angeles.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 6,604 reviews
Profile Image for JanB .
1,113 reviews2,156 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
November 15, 2021
While a story about “the unforgettable story of a daredevil female aviator determined to chart her own course in life” sounded promising, if I had known the book was a 600 page brick, I would have reconsidered accepting the ARC. I’m not against an epic story, but I’ve found it to be a rare book that justifies so many pages.

This one is way too detailed with extraneous information, and confusing time jumps of sometimes mere months, sometimes years, and sometimes, inexplicably, years + months as in “4 years and nine months later”. It’s unclear why this device was used.

Finally, I’m not interested in reading about the sexual exploits and abuse of the characters. It added nothing to the story.

A dnf for me - Many readers have loved this book, but, sadly, it is not for me. There are plenty of 4 and 5 star reviews so do check out those reviews for an alternate opinion.

* I received a digital copy of the book via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,715 reviews1,147 followers
July 29, 2022
Now incomprehensibly shortlisted for the 2022 Women's Prize after being mysteriously shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize.

Its longlisting was not just the reason why I read the book but more pertinently the reason I persisted with it to the end as it was the last of that I read (having completed the previous 12) and I was determined to complete my circumnavigation of the longlist.

Reading this one:

I was tempted to call off the whole adventure as misguided on frequent occasions as a number of times on my journey through it I faced numerous and unexpected challenges despite those who had gone ahead of me to chart the ways with their reviews.

Sometimes it was the ridiculous set of melodramas – even in the first 100 or so pages of the historical section we have – inter alia - parental child abuse, sexual obsession, a shipping magnate and his mistresses, severe PTSD, a dramatic ship capsizing, a disappearing mother, a jailed father, a predatory Bootlegging baron meeting a young girl delivering alcohol to a brothel;

Other times the forced coincidences between the lives of Marian Graves and Hadley Baxter – note to author coincidences between two entirely fabricated lives lack impact and even when clever (one person caught out by incriminating letters, the other by a hotel spycam) can seem forced. And this overreliance on forced coincidences goes wider - another example being a character obsessed with animal welfare purely it seems so the author can have the love of his life turning out to be the daughter of a meat-magnate;

Which leads into another issue: pretty well everyone that Marian and her family meet seems to be well connected and/or wealthy (that goes without saying for Hadley but some contrast or normal people might be welcome)– the repeated patronage Marian and her family gain becoming patronising to the reader;

In another place the dawning set of revelations as we are forced (in what I think is the book’s point) to think about what we know about people after their death compared to the truth of their existence (note to author having an omniscient narrator rather spoils this otherwise interesting idea);

In many others it was the author’s insistence on not just including much of her research verbatim but in some cases building odd storylines around it (see Sitting-in-the-Water-Grizzly - surely this should have been in a different book);

And on the subject of odd subplots a bizarre incident of mistaken identity involving a Japanese family and their gangster enforcers has even one of the characters laughing at its implausibility;

I also struggled with the behaviour of both Marian and Hadley with sleeping with anything that moves (and some that didn’t move - all described in lascivious detail);

But most inhospitable of all the parts of the book I visited was the unedifying Hollywood sections built around a Twilight-inspired film franchise and featuring every sterotype going (the Los Angeles shroom-section was a particular lowlight) as well as ostentatious wealth.


Then even with much of the book completed but the last daunting stretch ahead of me it was tempting to abandon the attempt – for fear of drowning in the sea of overelaborated prose.

And finally even with the last part ahead of me I felt what limited enthusiasm I had leaking away and was tempted to bail out – leave the longlist, abandon Gumble’s Yard and live anonymously under another avatar.

It turns out all of those instincts were book appropriate as well as well advised.

But I did not and I have completed my great circle around the longlist leaving behind a list of my reviews to chart my voyage of which I can confirm this was the lowlight.

I must say it is a lot different to what I was expecting - I was thinking of an aviatrix pioneer hagiography lacking depth and with some dreadful prose - entertaining but shallow. And the novel of course features that exact book - the one that inspired the movie. This one is actually a lot more complex in terms of plot lines and themes and serious in its literary ambitions than I expected. But that just made it worse somehow.

I feel like there are probably at least 5 good novels here - the amazing story of the WWII female delivery pilots, the round the world voyage and a story of pioneering fliers, a book about a film of a book which examines what we can really know of dead people especially those who disappear (and the difference between disappearing and dying and their different impacts on those left behind), the story of war artists, something on gender fluidity in history.

But adding them all together lead to a book that for me was simultaneously too long but unsatisfying in every respect.
Profile Image for Ceecee.
1,857 reviews1,370 followers
March 11, 2021
3.5 rounded up.

This is an epic saga with central characters being aviator Marion Graves and her navigator Eddie Bloom who aim to fly in a great circle from pole to pole in 1950, Marion’s brother Jamie and actress Hadley Baxter who is cast to play Marion in a film sixty years later.

First of all, this is a huge book and it takes stamina to read it. It’s very slow to begin with and extremely confusing. However, the sections concerning Marion and Jamie are really good. The characters of the twins is vividly portrayed and they couldn’t be more different. Marion is a thrill seeker whose life is colourful and varied, she’s courageous and brave. Whereas Jamie is a shy, sensitive and talented artist. I love reading about Marion’s life which is absolutely fascinating taking us on a circular journey from life growing up in Montana, through the Prohibition years with bootlegging and marriage, to Alaska, the war years and finally the polar quest and much of this is riveting. I like how she ventures boldly into a male dominated aviator world especially in World War 2. The novel is undoubtedly well written, the many settings being richly described as are the momentous events in the twins lives. I find these sections are the most exciting and at times thrilling, especially the latter parts in Antarctica.

However, the sections featuring Hadley especially at the beginning do not resonate with me although this does improve towards the end where we learn more about Marion via Hadley. There are some intriguing parallels in their lives which is interesting.

Overall, this is an ambitious book and there is certainly much to praise here especially the quality of the writing which whilst being richly descriptive is never overblown. However, the length of the book is exhausting, there are sections which I think distract the attention from the main characters thus overwhelming the really good premise. After much deliberation I’ve rounded my rating up because Marion’s story deserves it.

With thanks to NetGalley and especially to Random House UK for arc in return for an honest review
Profile Image for Tina.
477 reviews727 followers
June 8, 2021
It saddens me but I am slowly learning to just put a book down if it does not resonate with me. I wanted to love this book as it was Jenna Bush Hager's Book of the Month for May. It is 600 pages and I opted for the Audible version.

Unfortunately this is a big NO, NO, NO for me! The timeline shifts were weird and I did not care for the characters. I could not warm to Marion and the present day story did not interest me one bit. In fact Hadley annoyed me.

I really tried. I pushed it to 8 hours of listening time. To me it was just boring.

There are plenty of 4 and 5 star reviews and I really wish I was not in the minority with this book.
Profile Image for David.
214 reviews434 followers
March 8, 2022
Great Circle is the worst kind of modern fiction, a 600-page brick of a novel brimming with unearned self-importance and tediously overwritten prose. Popular fiction usually isn’t my thing, but I could have gotten on board if this didn’t take itself so seriously. Male characters have long been featured in this kind of puffed up epic, so I suppose it’s refreshing to see a female lead. I won’t begrudge anyone who enjoyed this, but it’s not, you know, good.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,849 reviews34.9k followers
September 15, 2021
CONGRATS MAGGIE!!!! ( ha- and I knew her back
when she was still just starting out)….
Nominated for the shortlist of the Man Booker prize in 2021!! 🥳

“Great Circle” tells the story of Marian Graves, a fictional female pilot who disappeared
in 1950 while attempting an unprecedented north south circumnavigation of the earth.
She had only one leg left in her trip, a final leap from Antarctica to New Zealand, when she vanished, Earhart-style in the South Pacific.

“This book is framed as a kind of passage through the world”.

Personally— I had a little breakdown while ‘wanting desperately’ to sit quietly and read this book. I needed uninterrupted time—but challenges interfered—and I got flustered.
I started reading the ebook ( a pre-order purchase)….
I love Maggie Shipstead…will read anything she writes.
But… when my kindle died ( new one has not arrived yet)… I switched to the audiobook….
…other interruptions such as physical therapy appointments - maid & yard duties - phone emergency necessities ( our Canadian/ Alberta Calgary daughter is living through a horrific 3rd covid surge lockdown)…
planning on returning to ‘reading’ this AMBITIOUS MOTHER-of-all MAGGIE novels…..
……[the audiobook format was just kind of a formality… listening until I could get my hands back on my e-book]…..
I kept teeter-tottering between enjoying many parts of the storytelling intertwined with my own damn headaches of concern.
I don’t feel up to reading this novel - right away - when my new kindle ebook arrives probably tomorrow.

Bottom line - I finished the ‘audiobook’….. I don’t feel fully satisfied….
I feel too burned out at this point to start immediately ‘reading’ it.
I want to want to!
So…. It’s going on my ‘compassion-permission list’….
meaning ‘read again’ later when in the right mood.

I’m giving it the 4.5 stars….but I missed ‘fine details and experiences’ without ‘eyes-to-prose’ engagement.

The audiobook narrator, Cassandra Campbell is an ‘audio-reader-pro’…..
so nothing was wrong with her reading…..
Alex McKenna was great too….
But some books require more of our ‘direct-need-to control-our-individual-pace-by-reading-it-ourselves’….
This is that type of book.

It’s simply a massive colossal
novel …
drama, (a ship explosion at the start), marriages, sex, adultery, moonshine, twins intrigue: (raised by their uncle), friendships, characters with multiple dispositions from inspiring to snottiness,
love, sorrow, happiness, redemption, changing settings, duo time periods, ( alternating between being a slow tugboat or tumultuous speed boat),
very long journey…
….spanning prohibition-era, Montana, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, New Zealand, wartime London, New York, Seattle, and modern-day Los Angeles

….Marian Graves - a fourteen year old school dropout — was troubled and tormented throughout her life.
….Hollywood actress, Hadley Baxter, who later plays Marian Graves, ( sixty years later), felt chastised from by film critics as a ditzy romantic actress —
playing Marian Graves - was with hopes to redeem her reputation. She was also troubled and tormented with ‘herself’.

We circle decades of history and aviation….
….as Marian and Hadley lives parallel…
platters of ‘a-whole-lot-more-of-enchiladas’….
keep being served to fill our plates���..
of a sweeping 600 page sphere-of-influence.

Impressive, ambitious, adventurous….
This novel takes patience….
we feel the extraordinary magnificence from this historical literary novel ….
with Maggie Shipstead’s lyrical writing excellence.
Profile Image for Karen.
552 reviews1,081 followers
May 15, 2021
An amazing and epic novel that spans a century and the entire planet.
This book is the story of Marian Graves who disappeared in 1950 while attempting a north-south circumnavigation of the earth.
Marian and her twin brother Jamie were more or less orphaned in a shipwreck in 1914, sent as babes to their paternal uncle in Montana and were raised by him.
During their coming up years the town is visited by a couple who fly a small plane and Marian becomes obsessed with planes and her only life goal is to fly them.
This novel has it all.. shipwrecks, the depression, bootlegging, whore houses, world war, and much more.
This is a dual timeline, there is also in current time, an actress named Hadley who is playing Marian in a film.
I am glad that the Hadley portions were not long and that the book was mostly Marian’s life because those were the great parts of the book!

I will be reading more of this author!

Thank you to the publisher through Netgalley for this free ebook!
Profile Image for Marchpane.
293 reviews2,080 followers
September 14, 2021
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2021

Great Circle is a dual timeline saga of two women: One a pioneering aviatrix of the early 20th century; the other the actress portraying her in a biopic in the present day.

Marian Graves disappears attempting to circumnavigate the globe from north to south in an army surplus C-47 Dakota war plane. Her journals are later discovered and published, and later still will form the basis of a movie. Hadley Baxter, a scandal-plagued Hollywood bratlet, is cast as Marian.

Where to begin? At the beginning, of course. But where is the beginning? I don’t know where in the past to insert a marker that says: here. Here is where the flight began. Because the beginning is in memory, not on a map.

Indeed, where to begin telling Marian’s life story? With her first flying lesson? With her unconventional childhood? Or how about, David Copperfield-style, with her birth? No, no. Naturally, Shipstead begins this story with the christening… of the ship upon which Marian’s parents would later meet. Of course.

This novel is a baggy monster filled with incident. Shipwrecks and plane wrecks and bootlegging and secret lovers and secret abortions and dissolute gamblers and murder and affairs and on and on. It’s surprisingly retrograde, for a modern novel about two headstrong, successful, socially aberrant women, focussing chiefly on Marian and Hadley’s encounters with various lovers. Hey, I can roll with a good old-fashioned melodrama, but this one takes itself much too seriously for its soapy plotline—lighter and campier, this could have been juicy escapist fun. Instead, it drags.

After 500-ish pages we finally, finally, get to Marian’s round-the-world flight and that’s when this novel soars. An exhilarating survival story, with gorgeous prose describing auroras and sea ice—here at last was the novel I thought I’d signed up for and gosh was it good. As a reading experience it was akin to a brief but thrilling joy flight... rather spoiled by taxiing on the runway for a week before take-off. 3 stars.
Profile Image for Henk.
796 reviews
July 4, 2022
Somehow shortlisted for the Bookerprize 2021... And also a shortlist nominee for the Women's Prize 2022

An overly long book with a totally redundant modern storyline. A lot of the drama the characters experience is self inflicted and the conclusion is overly sweet in my view
All he wants is for me to love him

This was quite a journey to get through and around 2/3’s (or actually, looking back at my notes, already at 40%) I just wanted the book to be over. Not that it’s badly written but I just found all the “problems” the characters found themselves in rather dull and the book is just the epitome of sprawling, going in all directions and narrating the backstory of almost all side-characters.

Featuring the well known structure of a historic and a modern storyline that should resonate with each other, Great Circle follows Marian Graves, flying pioneer who got lost over Antartica, and Hadley Baxter, young movie star who goes on to play Marian in a movie.
The 2014 LA parts of Hadley are so much less literary than the quite ok written historical parts; fortunately the parts of this kind of Twilight movie star take up a lot less of the book.

Hadley and Marian have some things in common, prime amongst them that desire is too strong in them. In Marian this relates to flying, in Hadley it's practically any man that walks a long beside Sir Hugo the gay British superstar actor who involves her in the Marian Graves film.
The story of the Graves twins (Jamie, the artistic and pescatarian brother) starts of filmic enough with the christening of the ship that plays an important part later on.. They have a nymphomaniac and then post natal depression mother who suffered from sexual abuse, a distant sailing father.
Also the current day storyline is kind of Lizzie McGuire turned into biopic actress, with *suprise* dead parents due to a plane crash.
All men seem to have mistresses and overal the writing is maybe a bit cliched but also quite gripping, although if you know a ship is christened before the first world war you can kind of imagine how the first chapter will turn out to be.

The 2014 narrator who acts in a Twilight like franchise and earns it all $32 million a year, visits kids choice awards, and fucks married guys and calls her social media detractors "crazy bitches", doesn’t feel very relatable.

All women in the book are almost solely defined by their relations to men, which in a sense is maybe not unrealistic but tiresome nonetheless. Also the incredible fortune of Marian and Jamie of always just bumping into people of large means to end up supporting them is just too good (even when coupled to marital rape) to be true.

Sometimes Maggie Shipstead also has an interesting tendency of dropping in an-complete histories, which are quite enjoyable after the rather solemn and swollen narrative voice of the historical story, but sometimes also feel like full on Wikipedia articles been dumped on the reader.

Jamie is another example of a character who creates trouble for himself, not accepting the help of meat magnate because he is pescatarian (which anyway feels like a rather anachronistic conviction for someone in the Great Depression).
The ambiguity of hate and love in Marian with her flight financier was done well, but Hadley meanwhile goes through a horrid Los Angeles on shrooms chapter 12 that's completely redundant for the story. Overall I think the book would have worked better without a modern day story line telling us the outcome to most of Marian her life.

We have a bohemian sex galore running up to the war (and a very interesting 1938 global sun storm).
The Second World War offering a lot more opportunities for women, which is interesting, especially compared to the little effect the Great Depression had.
And a lot more gay elements enter the story in the 1940-1945 period.
I do think the the women-women love is a bit of an easy/typical explanation for being an independent and tomboy girl, but the portrayal of the war being an upheaval of normal norms and possibility for people to travel the world and be more themselves before society returns to normal is interesting.

And so Great Circle is a book that is extremely uneven, much too long, with an incredibly cheap feeling kind of "happy" ending and hopefully not the winner of the 2021 Booker Prize.

Hope shouldn’t be so expensive
The temptation of becoming an absence
I always thought you’d love a person but you also love the vision of the life together you imagined, and now I need to mourn both
Wifehood feels a lot like defeat dressed up as victory
Profile Image for Jenna Hager.
Author 8 books35k followers
June 1, 2021
Now, more than ever, I love reading about women who chart their own course. As a mom of two little girls and a young boy, I believe it is important to highlight fictional and nonfictional stories of fierce, independent women who don’t conform to what society says we need to be. The heroines in my May pick, “Great Circle” by Maggie Shipstead, do just that.

Marian Graves is a woman before her time. Born in 1914, she drops out of school at 14 years old to follow her passion for aviation. She becomes a pilot after a wealthy bootlegger provides her with a plane and lessons, a debt she pays back for the rest of her life. A century later, Hadley Baxter is an actor caught in the prison of celebrity culture in Hollywood. When she is cast to play Marian Graves in a film about the pilot’s disappearance in Antarctica, the two women’s fates collide. Both characters although flawed, represent how women can be their own people and how important it is to learn from the stories of the women who come before you.

I have been a fan of Maggie Shipstead since reading her debut novel “Seating Arrangements.” While I have enjoyed the beautiful writing in all of Shipstead’s previous books, “Great Circle” is truly epic. I’m not sure I have ever highlighted such an ambitious novel. The way Marian and Haldey’s stories intersect will entrance readers as they dive into this sweeping tale. Told over many years, generations and places, “Great Circle” is about courage and daring defiance.
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,017 reviews48.2k followers
May 3, 2021
Maggie Shipstead may have been flying below your radar, but it’s long past time you spot her.
In 2012, she published “Seating Arrangements,” a smart romantic comedy about a WASPy wedding in New England. Two years later, she switched registers and released “Astonish Me,” a piercing novel about the cruel and beautiful world of ballet.

Her new book, “Great Circle,” is another surprising act of reinvention: a soaring work of historical fiction about a “lady pilot” in the mid-20th century. Indeed, so convincingly does Shipstead stitch her fictional heroine into the daring flight paths of early aviators that you’ll be convinced that you remember the tragic day her plane disappeared.

But this adventure begins in the water, not the air. As Europe descends into the carnage of World War I, somewhere in the North Atlantic an ocean liner carrying more than 500 passengers explodes. As luck would have it, the captain is traveling to England with his wife and newborn twins. When the night is shattered by the first alarm, he has every intention of remaining onboard during the chaotic effort to abandon ship, but in the dark and swelling panic, he fires his pistol and leaps onto a lifeboat while clutching his. . . .

To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post:
Profile Image for Holly.
1,391 reviews926 followers
August 28, 2021
3.5 stars

If this book was only focused on Marian, and removed the whole ‘current day’ portion of the story, I would have loved this a lot more. At no point did I care about Hadley. Even Jamie I could have done without - I would have much rather had Caleb’s or Ruth’s point of view instead. Oh and Eddie was a weird insertion towards the end. So yeah, I just wish this book was edited down, because Marian really carried the book for me and has me rounding up to 4 stars despite all the above complaints.
Profile Image for Carolyn.
2,092 reviews588 followers
June 9, 2021
This is a sweeping saga about the life of a very singular and spirited woman and her quest to fly a great circle around the world from pole to pole. It's a big book, rich in detail, beautifully written and hugely absorbing for those who enjoy good historical fiction.

Marion and Jamie Graves are twins, dramatically rescued as babies from a sinking ship captained by their father in 1914. With their mother drowned and their father disappeared, they are sent to live in Montana with their bachelor uncle Wallace, a kindly but dissolute artist who allows them to roam the nearby mountains and forests with their part native Indian friend Caleb, more or less bringing themselves up while Wallace paints and gambles away any money he earns. In 1927, Marion's burning desire to learn to fly is ignited by visiting barnstormers who take her up for a brief flight. With no money for flying lessons, she starts working for a bootlegger and slowly starts saving for lessons. However, impatient with her slowly growing funds she eventually acquiesces to wealthy rancher and liquor smuggler Barclay Macqueen’s offer to pay for her lessons, little understanding what he will expect in return.

The novel follows Marion as she learns to fly, works for Barclay, moves to Alaska and then during WW2 is recruited to fly in the UK delivering planes for the airforce. Eventually she teams up with a navigator to attempt to fly the great circle around the poles, leaving Auckland on the last day of 1949. Marion's story is also tied up with that of her brother Jamie, a talented artist and that of their friend Caleb, who will drift in and out of Marion's life. Also interwoven with Marion's story is that of a movie about her life being made in LA in 2014, starring a young actress called Hadley Baxter.

Throughout the novel, the author liberally sprinkles in details of milestones in flight reached by other pilots, particularly female ones. Marion’s character feels very much like one of those pioneering women, a strong clear-headed woman who knows what she wants and won’t let patriarchal society stand in her way of being who she wants to be and more importantly having the freedom to fly. I loved Marion’s character and the depth the author brought to her as well as depicting society’s attitudes to women during this period.

Hadley on the other hand was more difficult to empathise with. She’s depicted as a shallow Hollywood star who only agreed to act in the movie after being fired, following a drunken one-night stand, destroying the image of her character in a popular series. Early in the book, her role seems to be superfluous and intrusive to the main story. However, later in the novel when Hadley becomes interested in Marion’s life and what happened on her great circle flight, her role in the narrative becomes more important.

This is a big book (600+ pages) and it does take a little while to get in to, but I found it well worth the effort for the fascinating story that unfolded. 4.5★

With many thanks to Knopf Doubleday and Netgalley for a copy to read
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,285 reviews639 followers
May 27, 2021
4.5 stars: Generally, I shy away from tomes of 600 pages. How could I possibly be entertained with one story for that many pages? Conflicting feelings of my love for Maggie Shipstead’s previous two novels, “Seating Arrangements” and “Astonish Me” made me take pause. What lead to my final decision to give the novel a shot was Jenna Bush Hager’s choice of using “Great Circle” for her May book club; Jenna rarely disappoints me. I decided to get the audio version of the novel, as sweeping sagas work well in audio (for me). The audio is over 25 hours long, and I enjoyed all the minutes of the story. The narrators, Cassandra Campbell (a favorite of mine) and Alex McKenna were fantastic.

The story is ambitious, scanning more than a century. The focus is on two women: Marian Graves who was born in 1914 and grew up in Montana with her twin brother under the unreliable care of her dissolute uncle, and a feral boy neighbor; and Hadley Baxter, a train-wreck of a young Hollywood Star who is to play Marian in a biopic a century later.

Marian and her brother were raised in Montana after their mother drown in a tragic ocean liner accident, their father was sent to prison for that accident. Their artistic, gambling, and alcoholic uncle was charged with raising them. Being ill-equipped for the job, their uncle forced the twins to fend for themselves. Marion’s life and her chapters are entertaining and absorbing. Marion gets mixed up with a powerful and rich bootlegger when she was a young teen trying to make money to support her and her brother. Marion also begins a life passion with planes and flying. All Marian’s adventures are what makes reading enjoyable; Shipstead knows how to write absorbing stories that are weaved into one large, involved story. Shipstead also peppers the story with bits of historical information on fellow fliers at the time: Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, and Jean Batten. Shipstead also involves the reader in WWII flyers and the role that female fighter pilots played in that war.

Hadley is difficult to like. Her chapters are shorter, for which I was happy. Hadley is a bit acerbic, well, more than a bit. I think Shipstead used Hadley to poke fun at the absurdities of Hollywood. Hadley also served another purpose: filling in gaps of Marian’s life. Hadley does some sleuthing, and through her we learn more of Marian’s last flight in which she disappears, like Earhart, and presumed dead. This is really a novel about Marian, a feminist before her time. It’s about a plucky, rough and tumble girl of the early 1900’s who scraped by through posing as a boy to make money and to get what she wanted.

I was sad when the audio ended. I miss Marian. I even started to like Hadley at the end. Shipstead remains a favored author of mine.
Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,166 reviews541 followers
May 25, 2021
Well, I was really on the edge here to give this a 2 star rating. But it is fully 2.5 stars. And I rounded it up to 3 stars for the maps, technical descriptions and context to the flying world of that era.

It's epic, but at least twice too lengthy as it needed to be. The Hollywood part of it was diverting and for me, uninteresting, gratuitous /vapid trivial. It actually seemed to distract and almost perform negation of the earlier time period's tale and significance when it was placed as it was for the contents that it held.

This book could have been twice as thoughtful and also based to the emotional or intrepid features of Marian's essence -if it had had a violent edit done upon it. It was fully twice as long as a better telling would produce.

Shipstead's style of writing is overblown and intensely repetitive. I doubt if I will return to her work. This kind of depth to obsession highlights is never helped by such 1000 irrelevant minutia of redundancies and very little else. Marian Graves didn't feel real to me at all- not even after all these pages. She read stilted into her pilot's obsession and selfish nearly to all other connections entirely. Jamie and Wallace and others- it just seemed sad and that they were placed as planets for Marian to revolve around when she returned to her original orbit.

This is probably in the running for sure of top 3 books overrated on Goodreads this year, 2021.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,379 reviews518 followers
June 23, 2021
[4.5] A soaring, sweeping, satisfying novel that kept me up late for several nights. This is a long book, spanning the lifetime of Marian Graves, whose life is spent chasing her dream of flight. Reading A Great Circle was a treat - an expansive experience. I was grateful for each page!
Profile Image for Tammy.
494 reviews419 followers
February 1, 2021
Running moonshine, exhilarating flights, a bad marriage, and a search for the truth define this vivid novel. Don’t let the slowness of the first few chapters deter you. The rewards are many. Beginning in 1914, the framework of the novel revolves around the lives of a thrill-seeking female pilot, her sensitive twin brother, and a childhood friend. In 2014, a famous actress prone to detonating her life stars as the pilot in feature film. Rich in detail, settings, characters, and plot; a flight of fancy this is not.
Profile Image for Chelsea (chelseadolling reads).
1,471 reviews19.1k followers
June 16, 2022
My heart HURTS. What a journey this was

CW: childbirth (on page), sexual assault, child abuse, death of a loved one, suicide, pedophilia, post partum depression, cheating, abusive relationships, emotional manipulation, domestic abuse, forced pregnancy, abortion, war, ptsd, suicide
Profile Image for Melissa.
Author 10 books4,195 followers
May 30, 2021
One of the most stunningly great historical epics I’ve read, just watertight excellent and unrelentingly entertaining. I hugged my copy and said, “this book is SO GOOOOD” so many times my husband was finally like, YES, I HAVE HEARD IT’S GOOD.
Profile Image for Taury.
432 reviews62 followers
July 18, 2022
I’ve been trying to think of a review. I am lost for words lol. The book was long. Very long. Too long. But I enjoyed it. I have no reason why. It was just an easy book to read and move along with.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,089 reviews7,945 followers
September 14, 2021
[4.5 stars]

Shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize

Maggie Shipstead has accomplished a praiseworthy feat with this book. Words to describe this novel will likely be 'ambitious' and 'daring,' which are similar adjectives to describe our main character, Marian.

Marian Graves, born 1914. Twin brother, Jamie. Father, Addison, is a ship captain who commits a shameful act that will have reverberating consequences for the rest of Marian's life. Mother lost to sea and left at her uncle's doorstep in Montana, Marian is raised with Jamie among the fields and plains of the Big Sky Country. When a chance encounter with some barnstorming stunt pilots bring the possibility of flight to Marian, her life is forever changed. We follow Marian through the entirety of her life as she embarks on a mission to close the circle of her life, marked by her goal to be the first person to circumnavigate the earth around the North and South Poles.

Hadley Baxter, actress in 2014. She is set to star in a screen adaptation of Marian's life. Having experienced loss of her own—losing both parents in a plane crash when she is a small child—Hadley is seeking answers of her own and finds more than she expects along the way. Stuck in the cycle of Hollywood and clearly unhappy with where things are going for her, she takes a risk and joins a project that promises to give her more than she bargained for.

Shipstead uses this dual timeline to explore themes around womanhood, agency, and how much these things changed, or didn't, over the course of the 20th century and into the new millennium. She also uses Marian's storyline, primarily, to examine the events of the last century—mainly WWI and WWII—in great detail, while never losing sight of her main characters.

It feels like we live Marian's whole life with her, because we do; we see so much of not only the events that shape her life but the decisions she makes that chart her own destiny. Shipstead doesn't hold back; it's a clearly well-researched and exhaustive novel that she allegedly honed down from a 1,000 page manuscript. I'd assume a lot of what she shaved off were from Hadley's bits because that felt slightly less development and emotionally resonant when compared to Marian's saga.

I loved how attached I became to Marian; but also to her brother Jamie, their childhood friend Caleb, and some minor characters like Ruth and Eddie. I cared less for Hadley's storyline, though I saw its significance and found what Shipstead was trying to do their interesting, it just felt lacking in some ways. Overall, that didn't detract from my utter enjoyment of this novel. It's a large book for sure but it never felt its length. I was always eager to pick it up and see where Marian would end up next—from Canada to New Zealand, Antarctica and England, this novel traverses the globe and Shipstead's writing brings it to life. I could put quotes here of the beautiful descriptions she provides, especially those Marian sees from up in her plane, but I highlighted too many, so you'll have to read it for yourself to find out.

I'm so thrilled this was longlisted because I'd never even heard of it before the Booker Prize list was announced; and though it may not get shortlisted or win, it's a win for me because I was able to read a beautiful, enthralling, touching story that will definitely stick with me for a long time.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,663 followers
December 18, 2021
Great Circle soars. This intertwined epic historical and jaded modern tale is a stunning achievement of scope, fine detail, and pleasure. I savored its length and breadth, delighted in its breathtaking structure, and sobbed at its inevitable end.

In 1950, aviator Marian Graves and her navigator, Eddie, disappeared somewhere in the Antarctic during their attempt to be the first to fly a great circle intersecting the North and South Poles. Sixty years later, disgraced starlet Hadley Baxter is tapped to play Marian in a movie based on her complicated and heroic life. The movie is inspired in part on Marian's logbook, found years later on an ice floe wrapped in a life preserver. Marian wrote in fragments, stating at one point “What I have done is foolish; I had no choice but to do it.” But what did she do? What became of her and how did this pioneering journey end?

Great Circle spans decades and latitudes, from the crossing of the Atlantic by massive ship liners in the early 20th century to Prohibition Era Montana, from the Great Depression to the battlefields of WWII, from airfields in Britain where women pilots were allowed to enter the war as couriers to scandal-ridden contemporary Hollywood where double-standards still determine women's value and "the brand" trumps all. Although its scale is immense, the novel offers such intimacy and immediacy of its characters. Marian is a twin to brother Jamie and as infants the pair were unwittingly caught in a scandal that sent their ship captain father to prison and landed them at the doorstep of their uncle in Montana. The twins’ bond to each other and to Caleb, the half-Native boy nearby, is the foundation of the novel. The characters burrow deep into the heart as each individual's story adds to the greater, immersive whole.

The contemporary storyline is written in a biting, cynical first-person perspective that contrasts sharply with the rich and sweeping third-person of Marian's tale, but in it I found an urgency and immediacy that brought meaning to Marian's narrative. Both women are essentially orphans, struggling to create an identity and making some disastrous decisions of the heart. Hadley's fame and wealth have isolated her from reality and she wallows in her loneliness until she finds grounding in Marian's aerial accomplishments. As she digs deeper into the mystery of Marian's disappearance, the book tumbles forward into a thrilling mystery.

Maggie Shipstead has the ability to render the finest of details — whether in the creation of a painting or a flight through fog in a C-47, in the view of Los Angeles at dusk, or of Japanese soldiers committing suicide on an Alaskan tundra — that make the sentence level of an epic novel stunningly vivid. One can well imagine the amount of research that went into each scene, each detail, and yet it all weaves together into a gorgeous whole, a story that you do not want to end.

One of the year's best for this reader. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,251 reviews49 followers
April 28, 2022
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2021
Shortlisted for the Womens' Prize 2022

This is the longest book on the Booker longlist, and has attracted quite a lot of criticism, much of which I understand - there is something rather old fashioned about the storytelling, which makes it a little rambling and unfocused, and in a book of this size it is inevitable that some of the details don't ring true, and some of the plotting is a little contrived (as in many classic novels).

However, for me there was also a lot to like, and for the most part reading it was a pleasure, the kind of book one can immerse oneself in for hours at a time. Furthermore, many of the digressions and asides are fascinating, and these qualities are shared by several of my favourite writers, notably Pynchon, Byatt and even Richard Powers.

At the heart of the story is Marian Graves, a fictional aviator who embodies elements of many of the well known names of the great age of exploratory flying (particularly Lindbergh, Earhart and Johnson). The central event is her 1950 attempt to fly a great circle around the globe over both poles, starting and finishing in New Zealand.

Although this epic adventure story provides narrative purpose, for me it was almost the least interesting part of the book - Marian's back story and the stories of those around her (her parents, uncle, twin brother, gangster husband and flying acquaintances) provide much of the colour.

I particularly liked the parts about the experience of flying, the involvement of female pilots in transporting military planes in Britain during the Second World War and some of the geographic descriptions.

Then there is the modern part, which I struggled to find interesting initially but is also necessary to the design, in which a naive young Hollywood actress finds herself involved in a film based on a hagiographical version of Marian's life story, and gradually discovers more about what really happened and how elements of it mirror her own story.

This is just an impressionistic review that barely scratches the surface of what could be said about this book, but having picked it for the longlist, I would not be at all surprised to see it go further.
Profile Image for Michelle.
588 reviews442 followers
May 27, 2021
A simply magnificent work of fiction. What a story.

I would give this 10 stars if I could. I just had a feeling when I requested the book that it would be an epic read and it sure was. I kind of loved this book where it is borderline unhealthy. I thought about it all the time, I talked about it to everyone while I was reading it and marveled at how much I learned from it too. Yes, this has a very large cast of characters (some that are very important and others that are only present in the story for a minute), but each character was important. I greatly respect Maggie Shipstead for how big she went with this story. Instead of focusing on Marian Graves by herself, she included those that touched Marian's life (if even in a small way) and this is the kind of story I really enjoy. I want to be fully immersed in someone's life from beginning to end for a story like this and I think it also makes the end more rewarding.

Don’t be afraid of the page length. Don’t get frustrated at the beginning. Don’t worry about the stack of books you should be reading instead. Just read this one. This book has everything. Heartbreak, resilience, perseverance, love, courage, and redemption. It has it all and then some more.

Thank you so much to Knopf Publishing and Maggie Shipstead for the advanced review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Publication Date: 05/04/2021
Review Date: 05/05/2021
Profile Image for Linda.
Author 2 books136 followers
October 27, 2021
Short-listed Booker Award 2021

Whenever I can't wait to finish a book, I basically like there is something wrong. Unfortunately, Great Circle is such a book. It's over 600 pages long, but the problem isn't in its length. It is in its execution.

Maggie Shipstead divides the book into two alternating story strands. The first is the story of Marian Graves, a fictional pilot who was born in 1914. Shipstead did her homework as Marian's story spans over 50 years of history and is an imaginative depiction of the travails faced by women attempting to break into aviation. Marian, her twin brother Jamie, an artist, and the other character in her orbit are well developed and clearly delineated. I enjoyed the time I spent with them.

The second story strand takes place in the present and centers on Hadley Baxter, an actress who became famous in a series like Twilight and is looking to make a comeback playing Marian Graves in an upcoming film. Unfortunately, this section of the book didn't work for me. I found Hadley and many in her entourage shallow and pretentious. The dialogue faltered in several places, and the movement between the alternating stories didn't flow smoothly. I feel the book would have worked better without it.

I have read four of the Booker shortlist nominees, and Great Circle is the weakest by far.
Profile Image for Melanie.
Author 6 books1,194 followers
June 16, 2021
“At a moment when so many novels seem invested in subverting form, “Great Circle” follows in a long tradition of Big Sweeping Narratives. I hope we always have literature that forces us to reconsider what the form can hold, but also: One of the many things that novels can offer is an immersive sense of pleasure, a sense that something you’ve seen done before is being done so well that it feels newly and uniquely alive.

“Great Circle” grasps for and ultimately reaches something extraordinary. It pulls off this feat through individual sentences and sensations — by getting each secondary and tertiary character right. In thinking about flight (and ambition and art), there is a suggestion that the larger the reach, the more necessary a stable foundation. Here we have an action-packed book rich with character, but it’s at the level of the sentence and the scene, the small but unforgettable salient detail, that books finally succeed or fail. In that, “Great Circle” is consistently, often breathtakingly, sound.”
— Lynn Steger Strong in the New York Times

“ For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”
— Robert Louis Stevenson

When the first sentence bounced like an echo in my head, I became very still: “I was born to be a wanderer”.

Wanderlust is complicated and fertile ground when it comes to great female characters and Maggie Shipstead’s magnum opus, under its guise of epic and rambunctious historical fiction, is really the most ardent of love letters to women who choose to live deliberately.

A love letter to women who defy societal norms, refuse to settle, flee the neatly assigned spaces where they are supposed to graze and instead create their unique and dizzying circles that wrap themselves around the world, fueled by curiosity and propelled by the lure of an ever-shifting horizon.

A love letter to women who become lost, to the world and to themselves, in their stubborn quest to find out who they can be, and who still choose to push beyond, push forward, because they can feel in their bones, almost never intellectually, that the great affair really is to move.

A love letter to the men who make room for this burning wanderlust, shed their conventional ideals of masculinity in order to watch these women not only run alongside wolves but come fully into their own. And love them all the more for it.

A love letter finally to the heartbreaking notion that the circles that we trace are as brilliant as they are fleeting, lighting up the sky like a solar storm and vanishing.

A stunning literary feat, as tight a tightrope as you will find, and you will reach the other side, breathless and dazzled.
Profile Image for Eric Anderson.
641 reviews3,122 followers
August 25, 2021
I love getting lost in a great big epic. Maggie Shipstead's “Great Circle” has a truly grand story which contains many adventures and mysteries over a long period of time. It spans prohibition, WWII and brings us up to present day Hollywood. The novel also dynamically captures the complex, fascinating life of its fictional protagonist Marian Graves in a way that increasingly intrigues and reveals new layers. Born to a troubled privileged couple, she survives a dramatic tragedy when she's only a baby to then grow up alongside her twin brother in a humble home. We follow the rise and fall of her fortune, the many passionate and varied love affairs she has with men and women and her ambitious mission to fly around the world from pole to pole. Because through all the tumultuous events of history and the personal challenges she encounters in her life, Marian's true love is for flying and she endeavours to sail through the sky whenever she has the chance. Though this novel touches upon so many complex issues to do with gender, sexuality, abuse, different forms of marriage and alcoholism, Marian finds there's a rare liberation to be found in the air. It's so moving how this is a space and state of mind she continuously comes back to showing the true solace that accompanies a blissful kind of solitude.

Read my full review of Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead on LonesomeReader

I've also made a video discussing my reaction to this novel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4APr3xG514
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,024 followers
October 1, 2021
This could not be renewed at the library so it was now or never. The story is 90% a female pilot in the 20th century with enough dips into other storylines to want to go back to Marian. Do I think it will win the Booker? I'd be surprised, but I enjoyed the read.

Additional thoughts after recording about it and responding to comments...

I feel like by the time the author got to the actual great circle trip, I didn't need to read it, it almost felt redundant. I was all in on the side characters during Marian's time period but didn't need the contemporary time period except for what that allows us to learn about Marian (this could have been included a different way, perhaps.

The characters are all individually contemplating their sexuality which sometimes felt forced. I'm not a prude but I'm not sure it always fit? It stood out a bit awkwardly.

I did fall into the trap of f0orgetting Marian wasn't real. I like the historical fiction approach where the place and events are real but the people are made up.
Profile Image for Nerdette Podcast.
238 reviews322 followers
December 31, 2020
You know that feeling when you read a novel and it's so vivid that you keep wanting to google something to learn more about it? I can't remember the last time a book have me that feeling about as many different things as this one did. It's a bit slow to start, but it's so utterly worth it. This book has everything: women who want to fly, bootleggers, queer love, soaring skies, philosophical notions, surprising beginnings and astounding endings.
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