Review: Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

At 608 pages, this is not a short novel at all, but that didn’t stop me from absolutely devouring it in just 24 hours. It’s been a long time since a book grabbed me like that.

What it’s about

From the Goodreads description:

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.

This book released on May 4, and epic is great word for it.

My thoughts

Great Circle is a sweeping saga, with interrelated stories taking place over more than a century and all around the globe. It’s primarily the story of the life of Marian Graves, a brave female aviator, and modern-day celebrity actress Hadley Baxter, who is cast to play Marian is a movie about her disappearance while trying to circumnavigate the planet. The book definitely seems to spend more time on Marian’s story, including additional stories about her twin brother, Jamie, and that’s just fine with me. It’s about dreams, love, passions, family, adventure, and so much more, and it took me places I hadn’t expected at all.

This was my first experience with Maggie Shipstead’s writing and I am well and truly impressed. The careful plotting, descriptively evocative writing, and fantastically developed characters hooked me from the start and kept me enthralled. I adore Marian, Jamie, and Caleb, and I even liked Hadley’s story. Parts of this book just about destroyed me, and the ending was completely unexpected and a little bit mind-blowing.

I highly recommend this gorgeous novel to those who enjoy really good historical fiction. I did an e-book/audiobook combo, since I couldn’t bear to put it down when I couldn’t sit to read, and I can also vouch for the very well-done audiobook. I’m definitely going looking for more by Shipstead.

Thanks to NetGalley and Knopf Doubleday Publishing for my ARC copy in exchange for this honest review.


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