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Great Circle

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

As seen:

  • Booker Prize 2021 longlist
  • Women's Prize for Fiction 2022

By Maggie Shipstead

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11 reviews

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From the days of giant passenger ships sliding past Arctic icebergs, to the daring pilots of WWII, to present-day Hollywood and its malcontents, at the core of this story is the indomitable Marian Graves and her twin brother Jamie who are twice abandoned by their parents. Marian and Jamie grow up roaming Montana forests, more comfortable with landscape than with people.
When a pair of aerobats take their exhilarating show to a nearby airfield, Marian’s life is changed forever. Watching them roll, dive, and loop in their mini plane, she can think of nothing else but flying. As she grows into a woman, she sacrifices everything to command the breathtaking sense of freedom, of utter control over her own fate, that she feels when in the air. She becomes one of the most fearless pilots of her time, and in 1949 she sets out to do what no one has done before: fly the Great Circle around the earth, north to south around the poles. Shortly before completing the journey, her plane disappears, lost to history.
In 2015, Hadley Baxter, former child star and poster girl of the blockbuster Archangel franchise, has just been fired for cheating on her on-screen boyfriend. Struggling to escape the fury of the fans, she grasps at an offer for the comeback role of a lifetime: to play the famed female pilot Marian Graves in a biopic. From the first pages of the script, she feels an instant connection with Marian, a woman who refused to be bound by gravity or any of the other strictures of her time. After filming is complete, her bond grows stronger as she begins to question whether the Great Marian Graves really did die at all.


31 Aug 2023

It took me a while to get into this. The chopping and changing of settings and perspectives was confusing and for a while I put this to one side and read other things.
Picking it back up, I felt it settled into a more manageable pattern of relating Marian’s life and Hadley’s present day experiences.
There is some beautiful language in this novel: I often wished I was reading on my kindle so I could easily highlight sentences and paragraphs that I particularly liked. (If I’d had WiFi access there were also words, places, people and planes (!) that I’d have googled to enhance my understanding and appreciation.
I can’t comprehend the mind that dreams up a story on this scale: so many characters, places, events etc. And the links that echo throughout: orphans brought up by uncles bring the most obvious. But also Sitting-in-the-Water-Grizzly!
Having finished this, it’s the sort of book I’d like to read again, with the understanding that comes from knowing where it’s going and what’s going to happen to make sense of/spot more of the detail.
It’s long and there’s so much that happens… and I read it over a 2 week period that some of it feels almost like a distant memory already: especially some of the stuff with Barclay. There are scenes that are so visual: Marian and Jamie lying on the top of the wreck in the river; the first time Barclay sees Marian; Jamie sketching in the park in Seattle. I’m never sure how much of that is the author’s skill and how much is my concentration or perhaps connections I can make with other things I’ve seen whether in reality or on TV.
I would definitely recommend this to someone who likes reading enough to tackle a longer book. It’s well worth it!

30 Jul 2022

This book was a great read it was based on a real life inspiration. The story was about a woman maneuvering her way between tradition and prejudice to get what she wants. She wanted to be flier she never gave up and thats what i loved the most.

14 Jun 2022


Great Circle feels, to me, like one of those books that you feel glad to keep reading. Any initial apprehension about the sheer volume of pages soon gave way to a sense of enjoyment that it would continue to entertain me for many more pages to come and not leave me wanting in the way that shorter narratives sometimes do.

I particularly enjoyed the weaving time periods (the 1920s in particular, but also the way that the time periods meandered and fluctuated), vivid scenic descriptions that managed to capture the imagination and senses without ever veering into cliched or frilly language and, perhaps most surprisingly for me, the detailed intricacies of aviation - far from seeming too technical, I actually felt that I was there in the plane, swooping and diving.

I felt that all of the characters were to some extent originals, with complexities and nuances of their own. But it was the central character of Marian that captured me the most. She may not be too readily likeable but she is unapologetically herself, paves her own way in life and dances to her own tune; all things that I aspire to!

Review 2
What did you like about the book?

“I was born to be a wanderer.” The first phrase, the first words of this novel were for me an impossible to decline invitation to embark on a long journey – given the length of the book. I knew it would be a “circle”, I knew it would be a flight, as I had already seen the map of Marian’s flight, but I couldn’t know that it would take me across all the continents, it would span for more than a century, and even longer, it would take me from provincial America during Prohibition, through the world engulfed in the horrors of WWII, to the superficiality and “all-to-sell” and expose, glittery and false Hollywood in the XXI century.
And all of this turning around one very strong-minded woman, fuelled and consumed by her passion and desire, so real that I actually checked whether she was a real person and not only a fictional character.

I very much liked that the book felt very authentic, with so many information and notes about places and people, especially with historical and biographical notes about the pioneer aviators and their achievements, it made me check many facts and learn quite a lot about the world that I didn’t know much about.
A truly epic novel, very well constructed, I liked going backward and forward in time and between the characters, opening and closing smaller and bigger circles within the whole story.

I appreciated the first part of the book, before Marian and Hadley’s stories really met, as it made me think of very extended roots of a tree, each of them necessary for the tree – the story - to really grow strong, even if many of those were “incomplete” and left the reader with as many answers as unanswered questions, which was true also later in the book – perhaps it’s up to the reader to continue wondering what actually happened to Addison, to Sally or to Hadley’s parents…. And the constantly returning question “why?” about choices and decisions, about Marian’s flight – again, not totally answered by her but open to be answered by the reader.

The many “circles” and parallels that the novel is full of: Marian’s flight, Marian’s and Hadley’s parents, being raised by respective uncles, Matilda wanting to repair her husband’s wrongs, the twin-factor between Marian and Jamie, Marian always returning to Caleb, Adelaide’s custody of her biological father’s memory and heritage, Addison’s trip’s souvenirs in her house, and many more.

I think that the author is a great story teller, her use of language, vocabulary, punctuation, returning themes and phrases, made it a very involving read, it was for me a real page turner.
As a reader whose first language is not English, hence there were many words, technical terms, etc, that I did not know, I didn’t find it a problem. The descriptions were so rich and suggestive, the dialogues precise and clear, that even without understanding every word I had could “see” the whole picture.
I very much enjoyed alternating between the paper book and the Audible version, one complementing another, and I will be very happy to re-listen to this novel one day as I am sure that I would find many elements that I missed at the first reading.

Which themes from the book did you enjoy?

I think that more than “enjoyable” I found quite a few themes very interesting and thought provoking.

For me the central theme, and the one that linked in a very obvious way Marian and Hadley’s stories, was the quest for themselves. Not only the fact that both were raised without parents, which obviously influenced their lives, both were women in a world dominated and controlled by men, but just the inner desire to find answers, to find their place in the world or, as Marian did, never really finding it and wanting to go further, beyond, challenge the world, the people around her, and most of all, herself.

“Answers sounded nice” said Hadley and her acting, for me was both the way of escaping the world she was living in and trying to find herself.

It is for me a book about women’s power as, even in the male dominated world, it were ultimately women who took decisions and pulled the strings: obviously Marian, but before her Annabel, her mother, Sally, Sarah, Matilda and Hadley, each in their own way took their destiny in their own hands, with steel determination and resolve, even if it meant abandoning the life they were culturally destined to live, take great risks and face ostracism and loneliness or hurt others.

It is also a book about disappearance and its consequences: Addison Graves and Hadley’s parents disappearing, which had profound consequences for their families; Marian’s constant “disappearing” without ever saying goodbye and, before, fleeing Barclay; Sally vanishing without a trace; Marian passing for a boy, then for a man in Alaska, changing names, never reaching Auckland, and Hadley, becoming a different character in each of her films.
Very interesting the theme of loss, sacrifice, risk and bravery explored especially in the chapters related to WWII, but also of finding comfort and sort of happiness in the midst of such horrors, when you cannot count on any future.

I also found very interesting the contrast between Marian’s world and the times she lived in, when she was able to truly disappear, to vanish, to escape and today’s world, Hadley’s Hollywood world, where “everything would get out eventually”, everything and everyone would be exposed by the press, by social media, by someone wanting to get some money, where everything is “on sale” and “on show”.

On the other hand, there is also the beauty of nature, the purity of the sky, clouds and snow, the immensity of the ocean, beautifully described, and the deepest emotions translated into art, that strong link between Wallace, Jamie, Sarah and Adelaide, where another circle came to its closure.

So many themes of cultural importance and, again, rather thought provoking than enjoyable like alcoholism, parenting, same sex relationships, abusive relationships, media intrusion, etc, some of them maybe less explored, but nevertheless important for the story and our understanding of the era and the circumstances the main characters were living in.

Did you have a favourite character? If so, who and why?

Jamie. I liked both his strength and his weaknesses, his vulnerability and sensitivity, his talent. His loyalty to his sister, even when he couldn’t understand her.
His ambition and following his dreams, his faithfulness to his only love but also his principles, even if upholding them probably did cost him the future and the happiness his so much desired. His care for his uncle, he really was a good man.

I very seldom cry whilst reading a book, but I did get emotional with Jamie’s story, his beginnings cataloguing the Fahey’s collection and proving himself – I so wanted him to be appreciated, to be discovered - and his final farewell to Sarah.

I wanted Jamie to be happy – and I am grateful to the author to have made me connect so strongly with him.

How did this book make you feel?

It almost sucked me into the story, it made me go back to it whenever I could find the time, to find out what happened next, it made me wanting the characters to “make it”, even when I had a feeling of what might happen, something bad, something tragic, I wanted them to succeed, to escape their fate. I wanted Barclay to be different, I wanted him to love Marian and for Marian to love him, I wanted for them to be happy ever after…

The descriptions, especially those of Marian’s flights or those of the sea, made me savour the author’s ability as a writer. When there was a question, I almost wanted to answer, and I definitely didn’t find it too long – although I appreciate that some parts of the plot could have been shorter.

What made me sad about this novel is that nobody there found any lasting happiness, maybe a glimpse, maybe a promise, maybe a dream, but no happiness.

Marian never found it, the closest to it, or to freedom rather that happiness she found whilst flying, but she left behind scorched earth, a lot of unhappiness, she caused hurt and grief whilst pursuing her dream and she seemed to have this ability to destroy even something that could be good for her, she had this destructive and self-destructive streak in her – you could admire her, appreciate her, even love her, certainly desire her, but not like her, in my eyes.

Who would you recommend this book to and why?

I’ve been talking about this book since I had read the first page, the “I was born to be a wanderer” sentence.
I am sure it’s not a book for everyone but whoever like a “great” story, almost a painting of an era, would find it interesting. It’s a very readable book, it’s not difficult, but it is profound and touches many interesting themes, it is certainly a great book for a Book Club read and the reader can really enjoy the style: it’s a reader’s book, it takes you with it.

I would like young people to read it, not necessarily young women, although the main character makes it probably more a feminine book, but it is very much a book about following one’s dreams and ambitions but also about the price you always have to pay.

Finally, on a very basic level, it’s a book about the history of the aviation, something that we are taking for granted, and in itself it’s a fascinating subject.

Review 3
This book is the gripping story of Marion Graves, a fictitious early aviator, set in the early decades of the twentieth century and involving a myriad of characters. The reader accompanies Marion’s through her life, to a variety of places, interacting with the people she meets. It is as if one is pulled along, in the need to find what she will do, where she will go next and if finally she fulfils her dream.
The title not only indicates Marion’s dream, but also the circles that form many of the themes within the book - loss, obsession, independence, determination, single mindedness, pain, love.
Marion, herself is complex, unpredictable, exhausting, who is a contrast to almost every other character in the novel, most of whom she interested in for a time and then moves on. Caleb, on the other hand, is the constant throughout Marion’s life, there for her when she needs to touch base and remind herself of who she is and where she came from.
The book is long and while Marion’s story and that of many of the other characters is absorbing, that of Hadley - the ‘modern’ Marion - is a frustrating diversion and for a third of the book seemingly unconnected to the main story.
This is a book for anyone who enjoys a gripping story with credible characters, played out in an interesting period of history, with the bonus of learning about early aviation.
I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Review 4
Great Circle is a huge epic read! I loved listening to all the flying stuff which was often covered in great detail. I would highly recommend this book to everyone. I really enjoyed it a lot and think it would make a good film! I give it 4 stars out of 5!

The Sound Collective Chorus Books & Banter Group
Your name: Colin Skelton
Title of book: Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
I was initially drawn to this book by what I perceived as the subject – a voyage around the world that ends in Antarctica, a place that has fascinated me for years. The (rather small) portion of the novel that deals with Marian’s journey is to my mind the best part and the twist of the ending took me by surprise. Unfortunately, I felt that the narrative seems to zoom through this crucial section of Marian’s life, skipping from one place to the next at breakneck speed.
Indeed, the tendency to move so rapidly from one vignette to the next is a feature of the whole book, with characters being introduced only to disappear or die, with little explanation in most cases.
In the author’s note at the end, she mentions that the original manuscript had been over 1000 pages and had been edited down to the final book (673 pages). I felt that the book would have been improved by reducing to something less than 500 pages.
Several of the characters behaved in ways that I found hard to believe:
During the shipwreck, I don’t believe that a ship’s captain would use a revolver to assure himself a place in a lifeboat, while others were left to drown.
Marian agrees to marry Barclay almost immediately after he behaves appallingly and she says she couldn’t possibly marry him.
Sarah’s father throws Jamie out of the house after seemingly having a friendly relationship with him merely because he doesn’t eat meat.
I thought that the sections of the novel telling the story of Hadley (the actress) seemed somewhat irrelevant.
Despite these misgivings, I generally enjoyed the book, finding it an easy read.
I would rate it at 7/10.

Review 5
This ambitious novel was a ‘workmanlike’ epic. It took about 80 pages to get my bearings and understand what was happening. The plot was sufficiently interesting to enable me to keep on reading. Themes covered were fascinating: same-sex relationships and contemporary attitudes for example. The sadness experienced by Eddie at being unable to express his sexual orientation was movingly described. When Marion realises she is in love with Ruth she has no points of reference and runs away from the relationship, causing pain and hurt feelings.
The issue of feminism is explored- Marion had to fight hard to achieve her aim of flying as opposed to men who had few barriers. Caleb’s advice to Marion to disguise herself as a boy enabled Marion to b a driver and thereby save money for flying. When Marion meets Jackie Cochrane to volunteer to fly, it is evident that women are flying to help men and the decisions would be made by men.
The characterisation is mainly drawn by external description of the actions of people. Marion obviously is the main person, a wanderer, loner, driven by her wish to fly. Her relationship with Caleb, who seems to be her soul-mate, is a constant throughout the novel. Caleb and Barclay are opposites- Barclay being a manipulative, abusive gangster who ‘grooms’ Marion as a young teenager and pursues her ruthlessly to obtain a trophy wife. Caleb is by contrast a man of integrity, lives simply and understands Marion and accepts her for who she is and never tries to change her. Their love endures.
The second storyline involving Hadley Baxter is cleverly woven into the narrative. Hadley’s search for her true self mirrors Marion’s search for a life of flying and fulfilment.
The novel was technically very well written, clearly carefully researched, particularly regarding the aviation angle. My main criticism was I did not warm to the characters or become ‘attached’ to them. Maybe this was due to the use of the third person for all of the characters apart from Hadley. The use of the first person for Hadley made her inner life easier to understand and she was sympathetically portrayed.

Review 6
What did you like about the book?
It felt a real ‘epic’ story and you felt you were at the movies whilst reading it. It was a rollercoaster of a read – the story was not predictable and just kept on giving.

Which themes from the book did you enjoy?
I loved the ‘wilderness’ and the descriptions of the environment being huge expanses of sea and land. It felt invigorating to experience the different varieties of terrain. I really felt as though I was there.
The book was a journey and I felt I travelled on that journey from start to finish.

Did you have a favourite character? If so, who and why?
Caleb was a favourite. He had a really tough upbringing and was very much a loner but found his own way in the world. Marian and Jamie were his closest friends and they were lifelong friends who were always there for each other.

How did this book make you feel?
It made me feel excited, sad and inquisitive to find out more. I really connected with the characters.

Who would you recommend this book to and why?
I would recommend this book to friends who love books. Due to its size, it may be daunting for some readers but is well worth the time. It is the sort of book you can loose yourself in for many hours.

Review 7
What did you like about the book?
The character descriptions were very strong and ensures they are easy to picture. The way the story moves backwards and forwards through time creates a great circle in itself.

Which themes from the book did you enjoy?
The descriptions of the flying scenes are wonderful and gives you a real sense of feeling of what it is like to fly in that era.

Did you have a favourite character? If so, who and why?
Marian is my favourite character. She has a strong strength of character and the she brings adventures to the story due to her unconventional upbringing.

How did this book make you feel?

Who would you recommend this book to and why?
I would recommend this book to any person who enjoys reading.

Review 8
Well, what a journey that was!
Initially, I was totally unprepared for the plethora of characters; they threw me, and I had trouble keeping track of where I was and with whom. Every situation seemed intense. The abuse experienced by Marian’s mother, which damaged her irrevocably, set the scene in so many ways. The promiscuous consequence of that was completely disowned by her abusive father and it was very poignant, when she returned from Addison’s cabin after seducing him, that she told her father he ‘should have let her sleep’.
Rejection and acceptance were, for me, two dominant themes. Addison’s acceptance of his position when he faced trial and imprisonment for doing the right thing by his children, yet the wrong thing in the eyes of the law; the acceptance of the children by his artist brother, Wallace, and their eventual rejection by their father when he left prison; Jamie’s acceptance of his sister’s single-mindedness and her intermittent involvement in his life, was fascinating. Caleb’s rejection, for various reasons by Marian, and his acceptance of each occasion; Barclay’s acceptance (and facilitation) of Marian’s passion for flying and independence yet rejection of her need to be independent and free; Ruth’s rejection by Marian when the latter couldn’t cope with her feelings for her and then when she turned to Caleb after Jamie’s death; Ruth and Eddie’s acceptance of each other and toleration of each other’s lovers; Eddie and Leo’s incredible relationship during their incarceration in Stalag Luft 1, and Eddie’s acceptance of the final challenge set by Marian, with his rejection of its final stage, a stage financed by Lloyd Feiffer’s widow, who accepted responsibility for her husband’s betrayal of Marian’s father.

I found Jamie to be one of my favourite characters, as he dealt with rejection for a particularly trivial reason, by the family who had benefited from his expertise, despite his youth. His deep attachment to the daughter Sarah, abides throughout the book, rather like Caleb’s for Marian. His story weaves via his artistic skills, to a chance meeting with his love, and the child he never knows, also becomes an artist like her father, and unwittingly provides the clue in the final stage of the circle to Hadley Weaver, the actress who had also lost both parents, and had fascinated by Marian from very early in her life.

Caleb is another character I liked. Again, he is there for Marian throughout her life and accepting of his love for her even though it was largely unrequited, but they could pick up where they left off very easily. I liked the fact that Jamie’s photos enabled Hadley to see the people she had learned about in a totally fabricated way though, in the film.
Hadley deals with her own problems with a mixture of acceptance and rejection but her relationships are as chaotic as Marian’s. But she learns the truth of the real life of Marian, and her tenacity in wanting to learn more about the real person behind the book is essential.

This was a challenge at times and the lives depicted are amazingly modern, given the times in which the characters were living. I enjoyed reading it after the initial bewilderment, and would recommend it to anyone who is prepared to undertake the challenges within the story. I have found reviewing this tome very difficult (so much to talk about, so little time) but feel that Maggie Shipstead has created a masterpiece!

Review 9
This is a long book with the action spread over many decades and going back and forward in time between these. There are rather a lot of characters each with their own story which, with the time shifts, I found a bit disorienting at first but it all came together as the story progressed.
The central story referred to in the title is about Marian Graves an early aviator and her attempt to circumnavigate the earth longitudinally crossing the north and south poles. A feat which had at the time never been done.
I became absorbed in Marian’s character, eager to know more about her. I was fascinated by the changes in her as she tries to adapt to the many difficulties in her life and find her way through without losing her true self. The wildness we see in her as a child seems always present and there is something about her which is elusive, hard to fully capture. The story of Marian’s obsession with flying and the details about how she learned and where she flew were so convincing I thought for a while that she was a real person. The inclusion of factual historical details about other women flyers at the time added to the feeling that Marian really existed too.
Marian’s relationship with her twin brother is strong despite their separations and I found him an interesting character. They both seemed to struggle with relationships; perhaps this was inherited from their parents or perhaps it is due to their orphaned state and being raised by an uncle struggling with addiction.
Caleb is another strong, interesting character. He is a true friend to Marian and seems to turn up for her whenever she really needs him.
The story shifts unexpectedly to wartime Britain and I was interested in descriptions of how women delivered planes to where they were needed. The attitudes to, and restrictions placed on, those women were fascinating and a little disturbing.
Hadley, the film star, in making a film about Marian becomes drawn to her story and tries to understand her, maybe in an effort to understand herself. She feels she has some affinity with Marian as they both lost their parents at an early age and were raised by an uncle. I didn’t particularly like Hadley and it didn’t really seem to me that they had much in common although it is Hadley who, in her own obsession about Marian, investigates and discovers what happened to Marian in the end.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I didn’t want it to end. I thought it was well written and researched and would certainly recommend it as a good read.

Review 10
What did you like about the book?
It is a relentlessly exciting story about a woman being driven by her will, against all odds, to achieve her ambition to fly. Cleverly interwoven are secrets and obligations that make this book so appealing, a page- turner, in spite of it’s length.
Shipstead’s exploration of gender is fascinating, demonstrating how expectations of and attitudes towards women can shape their lives and how Marian overcame these by her determination and ability to use her gender to her own advantage when most needed. The book concentrates on female empowerment in an industry dominated by men.
This novel is beautifully written with lyrical language and detailed descriptions in key passages drawing in the reader. For instance when Marian is hovering in the Peregrine above the icebergs, towards the end of the book, the tension is palpable. ‘’In an hour they pass over mountains that don’t appear on their charts. Probably no one else has ever seen them. Steep ridges of black rock and lonely nunataks jut from the ice. Then an astonishing infinity of white.’’ At another point, carefully chosen language conveys the pleasure of flying the aircraft for the first time, ‘’Flying around the valley like a marble riding the inner surface of a bowl’’

Which themes from the book did you enjoy?
The Circle theme is well explored from the well -chosen title suggesting that the heroine lives her life in widening circles, becoming more and more outstanding in her flying, as well as the physical pole to pole challenge around the Earth. Perhaps Shipstead also alludes to the circulatory nature of feminism, relying on connectivity and often naming successful women aviators who broke records-Amelia Earhart, Amy Johnson.

Do you have a favourite character? If so, who and why?
The book is full of vivid, memorable interwoven characters.
Marian, the heroine, is young and brash and driven to be a pilot. I admire her determination and the way she uses anything in her power to get what she wants. She is ultimately successful, in spite of all the challenges on the way. Shipstead is very good at examining private moments with characters, making them more believable.

Equally, I find Jamie fascinating-such a contrast to Marian, in spite of being her twin! He is more comfortable with landscapes than people, growing up in Montana forests. He is a sensitive artist who finds ways to capture the depth of people’s personalities in a portrait or movement landscape.

How did the book make you feel?
Excited, terrified, sad, interested in the historical backdrop-the changing landscape of the twentieth century.

Who would you recommend this book to and why?
Everyone! Especially good for all to read about fierce, independent women who push the conventional boundaries to achieve what they want.

07 Jun 2022

Jo Lacey

Reading Group name: The Sound Collective Chorus Books & Banter Group
Name: Jo Lacey
Title of book: Great Circle

What did you like about the book?
The lead character Marian Graves and her strength of character and perseverance against so many odds. She experienced grooming as a child (child abuse), bereavement and loss, domestic abuse and sex discrimination yet was determined, demonstrated great resilience, yet remained compassionate albeit very independent.

Which themes from the book did you enjoy?
1. Marian's passion to reach her goal of learning to fly and to then to fly her plane between both north and south poles, which in many instances seemed way out of reach.

2. The imperfections and vulnerabilities of the characters.

3. Openess and acceptance of diversity in relation to sexual orientation and life choices.

The beautifully descriptive writing.

Did you have a favourite character. If so, who and why?

Barclay Macqueen. The 'bad boy', local gangster and all round scoundrel; at worst a paedophile (child groomer).

His character was powerfully depicted and developed as the story unfolded.

The reader was able to gain a hateful yet powerful relationship with him.

How did this book make you feel?

1. Intrigued.
2. Adventurous.
3. Reflecting on the significance of feminism.
4. That we as humans all have numerous imperfections, as seen in each of the characters of the book.
5. Emotional when Jamie, my second favourite character, sadly died.
6. A little frustrated by too much coverage of actor Hadley. Her part could have been edited/condensed a little.

Who would you recommend this book to and why?

Anyone, but particularly those outside the teenage years.

Great as a book club read.

Perfect for all flying enthusiasts past and present.

07 Jun 2022

Lorraine Cornelius

Reading Group name: The Sound Collective Chorus Books & Banter Group 
Your name: Lorraine Cornelius 
Title of book: Great Circle

Great Circle is an entertaining saga about the life of (fictional) female dare devil, Marian Graves. I say fictional as whilst reading it I did in fact Google to see if the story was true, which is a great credit to the author for her realistic characterisation.

Even though the book perhaps was too long, I did enjoy the story of Marian and her life long love of planes. There were brilliant descriptions of landscapes while Marian is flying and the reader gets caught up in her enthusiasm and passion.

Throughout the book we meet the characters who have shaped and moulded Marian into the person she becomes. Her wonderful but timid brother Jamie who she feels she has to protect; Her father, who both rescued and abandoned her, her talented artistic troubled uncle who didn’t know how to care for her and Barclay, her eventual husband who was as infatuated by her as she was with planes.

Caleb is her one true constant throughout her story and although came across quite predatory towards Marian at the start, ended up being a centre to Marian’s circle.

Marian isn’t a particularly ‘nice’ character. She’s sparky, tough and stubborn and sometimes single minded. These flaws are what makes her interesting to read and I would say she was my favourite character in the book.

Whilst I can see the point in Hadley’s story, I found I didn’t really care about her. She could have had about 3 chapters and it would have worked better. I think there could have been other ways to tell the ‘true ‘story - perhaps through Caleb or Jamie’s eyes.

I was particularly gripped and moved towards the end when Marian & Eddie take their expedition. In Antarctica, after their last flight I was willing Eddie to go with Marian and was so cross with him for not having faith in her. That particular scene where she leaves him behind could have been written for the big screen.

The book was great and would be something I’d have picked up through choice, however, I found it disjointed in places, for example the amount of detail that Jamie had half way through the book in just couple of chapters where he had been a background character the rest of the time.

I would certainly recommend this book to those who like a saga and historical fiction. It’s a slow burner which is not for everyone but it deserves to do well and certainly be picked up by Reese Witherspoon’s movie company for an epic film.

07 Jun 2022


Reading group name - The Sound Collective Books and Banter Group
Overall a good read although it took me until about page 110 to really get into the book. I found all the initial background information on the various characters and the varying time frames a bit challenging to start with, I did however find the chapter headings with date reference helpful.
The storyline around the lives of Marion and Jamie I found particularly engaging even though some of the details do feel somewhat implausible but then I suppose that is what makes a good read and peoples’ lives can at times seem larger than life. I found Calum a likeable character and his enduring connection with Marion provided a heartwarming theme in an otherwise challenging and bleak environment.
In fact there are so many interesting and complex characters in the book and I wonder if there could have been a bit less? Whilst I may have found the book a bit of a slow burner to begin as it progresses it becomes more of a page turner where you want to get to the end but are somewhat bereft when you do.
This book is certainly worthy of a second read and I would recommend to anyone who enjoys a book with complexity of both plot and characters.

05 Jun 2022


Reading Group Name: The Sound Collective Chorus Books & Banter Group

My Name: Richard

Title Of Book: Great Circle

"Great Circle" is a tale of extraordinary and implausible characters,
whose actions and behaviour seem extraordinary and implausible.

And yet, and yet... when an extraordinary and implausible project is
achieved, perhaps it is only people who are extraordinary and
implausible who have the breath of vision and resolve to make this happen.

Marian and Jamie, abandoned by their family and forced to make their own
way in a challenging world, engage our attention and sympathy, and
throughout the story we will them to survive.

The book connected me to the great events and themes of the last
century: the World Wars, Prohibition, changing values and mores. New to
me were the lives of the women pilots who inspired this story and made
such a contribution.

However the book's many haphazard and unconnected strands make the book
too long. The author comments "I'm sadly incapable of planning my
books... I just have to leap and then hope I'm able to resolve all the
problems"* and unfortunately this shows. Some of the most interesting
characters are simply written out of the plot, whereas we would have
loved to see how they might develop further; these include Addison,
Barclay, Sally, Ruth, but in particular Annabel, whose horrific abuse as
a child becomes just a footnote to Marian's story.

The filter of the Hollywood treatment adds a present day perspective,
contrasting the privileged and superficial lifestyle with the harsh
realities of last century life. For me this calls into question the
veracity of any film with the tag line "inspired by a true story".

Overall this is a good read, and is recommended.


01 Jun 2022


I found this epic story deeply engrossing and moving. Marian’s fascination with flight, and her desire to push boundaries, is linked convincingly with her childhood bereavement, and her difficulty in forming a relationship that fulfils her emotionally yet allows her to pursue her dream. The writer is totally convincing in describing both the pioneering pre-war flights and the exploits of the wartime ferry pilots - her research is remarkable. No character is straightforward - they all have their flaws and their redeeming features. Caleb is a remarkable character in his patient pursuit of Marian. Eddie’s unfulfilled sexuality carries echoes of ‘Brokeback Mountain’. The fast-forward scenes with Hadley took a while to make sense, but the two plots converge ingeniously at the end. A remarkable book.

09 Dec 2021


Absolutely loved this book! Clever, intricately plotted storytelling full of authentic, unforgettable characters. Who knew there were so many ace women aviators? Not me. But as we get airborne with Marion we get to know many of the others too and we're taken on an exhilarating ride that will stay with me for a long time. Can't recommend it highly enough.

01 Nov 2021


Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I found it engaging, interesting and extremely well-researched and well-written. The prose is fabulous in places. Some of my favourite passages:
p.204: She thinks he might destroy her, break her like some small animal and not even notice because what he wants is not actually in her but beyond her, somewhere else, or perhaps doesn’t exist.
p.205 Could there be power in submission?
p.394 He likes Jackie and her strict lipstick and resolutely powdered nose, the whiff of sawdust under her expensive perfume.
p.437 The barracks’ interiors were collaged with women, barrel-vaulted Quonset huts densely papered with smiling movie stars and nameless models the way some cathedral ceilings were crowded with angels and apostles. The women from home, the real women, were kept in pockets or pinned above bunks and washstands like patron saints.
p.497 Age had ceased to matter. The young lived nearer death than the old.

This is a great book for book groups as there is so much in there to discuss.
1. Hadley considered herself to be like Marian having had similar experiences in early life. But would Marian have thought Hadley was like her? Personally, I doubt it. There were significant differences between Marian and Hadley. In many ways I felt that Hadley denigrated Marian, that she didn’t fully uphold her spirit, and it made me dislike her as a character.
2. Is Hadley’s story necessary to the book? I noticed the editors had pared the book down from 1000 pages, so there must have been positive and considered decisions made about retaining this part of the book. In my view, I am not convinced that this part of the story adds much, other than to add a device that provides additional information, particularly subsequent to the flight.
3. I felt as though the end of the book was quite hurried and wanted to learn more. I got little of Marian’s feelings or character after the flight, in contrast to the rest of the book where she was very much alive with her thoughts and actions. Did the flight cause Marian to lose herself a bit (or entirely)?
4. To me there is a bit of a juxtaposition between Marian as a child and as an adult. Is this juxtaposition an important part of the book?
5. There is a lot in the book about power and the wresting of power from one person to another, particularly in relation to Marian, to gender and the role of women, and to money. I found some of the prose really rich in relation to some of these themes.

The story itself is captivating and interesting. I found it to be a real page-turner of a book and its size didn't matter. However, as mentioned above, I did find the story about Hadley rather irritating and would rather the author had spent more time on Marian's story, particularly after the flight, than the side show that was Hadley. That said, its a book well worth reading and discussing and one that I will recommend others to read.

01 Nov 2021


I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel and am in awe of the amount of research that Maggie Shipstead must have conducted.
The novel is well crafted with well rounded characters, but maybe suffers a little from too many individuals. The novel spans many decades and takes the reader to many different locations on different continents.
The story of Marian Graves had me heading to google to see if she was a real character such is the convincing weaving of her aviation prowess. This novel cleverly includes characters who actually lived and their history alongside that of Marian’s is fascinating.
I did not enjoy the character of Hadley and found her story set in the present, irked me and had me racing through to be back in the timeframe of Marian.
I can see talk of film rights if this hasn’t already happened.
I enjoyed the beauty of the descriptive landscapes and was thrilled to read about Missoula Montana.. a place I recently visited. This novel is an epic read with romance and adventure and gave rise to very interesting discussion in my reading group.
Very enjoyable
Alison Young

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