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Review: Great Circle

Great Circle

Title: Great Circle
Author: Maggie Shipstead
Genre: Historical Fiction
Page Count: 608
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
Date Published: May 4, 2021
You can find it here: Bookshop.org

Goodreads Synopsis:

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.

Overall Thoughts:

I can see why this will be incredibly well received in scholarly literature and take home numerous literary prizes, but it wasn’t entirely for me. Great Circle is an incredibly well researched novel, truly the plethora of research completed here from aviation to steamer ships to WWII to Prohibition Montana in the early 1900s to Hollywood in 2014, Alaska, Seattle/Vancouver, Antarctica and stingrays in Hawaii… the mind boggles. 

This is a dense 600 pages that I was astonished to learn was trimmed down from a 1000 page manuscript, to me could have easily lost a couple hundred more pages. Countless sections of completely obtuse, unnecessary description – such as the complete 15,000 year + history of the Montana stretch of land where Marian grows up, from the first ice age through First Nations Peoples and European Settlers, the battles and laws and wars that marked this plot of land … I still can’t figure out why 6 whole pages of a chapter had to have this much detail? Like I said, it’s dense. 

I love historical fiction and am always eager to read multigenerational dramas, but Great Circle just read like a brick and required way more mental strain and work than I’m willing to give for pleasure reading. Huge sections of verbal diarrhea frustrated me as I continually fought to hold onto the storylines I was enjoying. To pad that page count and achieve the hundred year + span of this novel, the character storylines just kept repeating over and over, just in different years and parts of the world. That alone was tiring, but the fact that these characters continually chose to make frustrating, melancholy, self-sabotaging decisions, made for even more of a chore read. The writing itself is superb, the research is standing-ovation commendable, but the execution as an enjoyable page turner failed to hit the mark. Instead, falling into superfluous expansive description akin to a history textbook, maybe, and dare I say it, in a self aggrandizing manner to prove just how much research was done. 

Read This If:

  • This is for the reader I’d classify as the “Challenge Me Reader”. You want a big read that’s going to expand your horizons, love to learn while you read, info-dumping and large page count does not intimidate or concern you. 
  • Want to learn more about the history of women’s aviation … hint, it goes way beyond Amelia Earhart.  
  • Looking for bisexual representation in a strong female character.
  • Are fine taking your time with a huge piece of historical fiction, that may be the only book you read this month. 

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