Great Circle

Maggie Shipstead

Great Circle
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Great Circle

Maggie Shipstead

Shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize  


I was born to be a wanderer.

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

In 1950, she embarks on her life’s dream - to fly a Great Circle around the globe, pole to pole. But after a crash landing she finds herself stranded on the Antarctic ice without enough fuel. With a fearsome piece of water separating her from completion of the Circle, she writes one last entry in her logbook.

She is ready for her final journey.

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

An enthralling journey over oceans and continents and a drama of exhilarating power, Great Circle combines an unforgettable cast with thrilling suspense in a hearstopping story of loss and obsession, sacrifice and survival, of the unknowable mysteries of freedom, love and life itself.

Review

Great Circle is a brilliantly researched 20th-century epic set across Montana, Alaska, New Zealand and wartime London.

In 1914 Marian Graves and her twin brother Jamie are rescued as tiny babies from a sinking ship. Their troubled mother deliberately disappears as the ship goes down. Their father, the ship’s Captain chooses to save his babies, jumping on a lifeboat with one under each arm, rather than going down with the ship – an act that lands him in prison. The twins run wild while being ‘raised’ in Montana by their uncle – an excellent painter, a frequent drunk and a very bad gambler.

More than a decade later, 13-year-old Marian witnesses two pilots performing exhilarating rolls, dives and loops in their beat-up biplanes. Desperate to fly, she leaves school in search of work to fund flying lessons, landing in the world of the older, wealthy Barclay Macqueen, a bootlegger supplying illegal alcohol during prohibition.

Marian sacrifices everything to harness the same control over her life as she feels when she is flying. In 1949 she attempts what no one has done before – fly the great circle around the earth via the North and South Poles. Her plane disappears in Antarctica and she is presumed dead. Years later when her journal is discovered we learn the truth of her final flight.

In the modern day, troubled Hollywood star Hadley Baxter is cast to play the part of Marian Graves in a biopic. Hadley immediately feels a strong bond with Marian as both were orphaned as children and raised by uncles. As she digs more deeply into the life of her subject, Hadley begins to question whether Marian did actually die.

Damaged and deeply human, both Marian and Hadley are defiant women desperate to free themselves from constraints and chart their own courses in life. Both are fearless and determined to form connections and push the social boundaries of their era. This is a wildly exciting story of a female daredevil aviator who refuses to be crushed by society’s expectations. Maggie Shipstead’s writing is superb and Great Circle is an intensely satisfying read.


Lou Ryan is the manager at Readings Carlton

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