Cover Image: Great Circle

Great Circle

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Member Reviews

An aviatrix and an actress--Maggie Shipstead employs the ambitious and intriguing structure of parallel narratives to flesh out the lives of two very different women...and to remind us how all women share similar ambitions and challenges. Perhaps not quite as fascinating as Shipstead's debut novel, but a rich and challenging and thought-provoking read.
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What a glorious book! It was both epic and intimate - sweeps of history along with the story of one woman and her family. The writing is gorgeous and the characters are memorable. I even had to keep reminding myself that Marian was not a real historical figure. Will be one of my favorites of the year!
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Heard many great things about this one and was excited to jump in; unfortunately it just didn't do it for me.
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I. loved Maggie Shipstead's previous books, and was intrigued with Great Circle.  Orphan turned daredevil aviator beginning during Prohibition sounds like a recipe for a good read.  A mirroring story of the woman who plays said orphan in a present day movie?  Even better.  The story was good, but there was just too much unpleasant sex throughout, and it detracted from the story.  I wish Shipstead had been able to develop her characters with a little less.  If you can tolerate that, you might like this novel.
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4.5 rounded up.
I really loved this sweeping* novel about Marian Graves - aviatrix, sister, lover...I really feel like I know every aspect of her life.

*And therein lies the reason I'd knock it down to a 4.5 - it is SO LONG. Halfway through WWII starts and I found myself wishing the book had ended before that. But then I kept reading and found that the long sections about the war are important later. I also found myself thinking that the story line involving Hadley - Hollywood A-lister who sleeps with everyone she meets - was unnecessary and slightly annoying but really I can overlook that for the importance of her in the end.

Long, lovely, truly an epic story. I'll be thinking about Marian (and Caleb, tbh) for a long time.
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Shipstead sparkles. A fresh approach to the aparallel narrative approach so popular as a techniques with writers these days. Marian, the daredevil aviatrix who disappeared in the Antarctic,  comes alive as Hadley Baxter is cast to portray her in film 100 years hence. As Hadley deep dives into Marian's life story, her own life choices come into focus. A tale of two women and self-discovery.
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I’m judging a 2021 fiction contest. It’d be generous to call what I’m doing upon my first cursory glance—reading. I also don’t take this task lightly. As a fellow writer and lover of words and books, I took this position—in hopes of being a good literary citizen. My heart aches for all the writers who have a debut at this time. What I can share now is the thing that held my attention and got this book from the perspective pile into the read further pile. 

Shipstead is a delight. This novel is a well researched sweeping epic feat.
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This delicious novel satisfies on so many levels. Marian Graves was a pioneering aviator who crashed into Antarctica in 1950. Some of her journals were found years later, and now her story is being made into a film starring an actress whose success in a dystopian film series has lead to a cult following. Her recent romantic antics have lost her many fans, and she sees this film as a way to point her career in a new direction. 

Marian is much more interesting, but as our understanding of actress Hadley grows, so does her role in the story. There are parallels between the women--both lost their parents young and were raised by indifferent uncles whose indifference turns out to allow then freedom they would otherwise not have had.

If the book has any downside, it's that the set up opening chapters are slow and bewildering. Just keep thinking that the payoff is coming and the pieces will all snap together.  You'll be surprised and gratified by the way "Open Circle" evolves. 

All my gratitude to Knopf and Netgalley for supplying a digital copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. Here's my honest response to this book--you'll love it.

~~Candace Siegle, Greedy Reader
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Writing: 5/5 Plot: 4/5 Characters: 5/5

The sweeping story of a daring aviatrix (Marian Graves) who is determined to be the first to fly around the globe longitudinally and the self-destructive actress (Hadley Baxter) who will play her in a movie 60 years later.  Their somewhat parallel stories (orphaned young, raised by benignly neglectful uncles) and innate curiosity help Hadley delve into the character more than the screen-writer had.

This book was interesting on so many levels.  Stunning descriptions of gorgeous locales —  Montana, Alaska, and Antarctica between 1920 and 1950 — spread throughout.  In-depth discussions of aviation and art, as well as philosophical dives into isolation, the lure of solitude, the impact of war, and the evolution of personal identity are also ubiquitous.  Shipstead really gets inside a subject, presenting it not as a separate entity but through the character’s perception of it.  We see Antarctica not as a dry description of mountains and snow, but through Marian’s perspective, and it feels as though her soul is exposed through the beautiful language of what she sees and feels.  Similarly, while aviation has no appeal for me, Shipstead describes Marian’s intellectual and emotional engagement with it, and I can feel the (unnatural for me) attraction.  It’s a rare author who can transmute a dry topic into fascination through the mind of an obsessed character.  Even the Hollywood bits feel real through character insight, rather than splashy opulence and name dropping.

Plenty of historical context is introduced via short tidbits from the news (flights from other aviatrices, difficulties for women in trying to achieve in male-dominated worlds, etc.).  As always, I like the fact that the author just wrote the story, with realistic reactions and approaches of her characters and didn’t spend time pontificating on the obvious.  Yes, life was much harder for women who wanted to pursue the unorthodox, but this story is about what they did anyhow, not what they were prevented from doing.  Her writing style is also not overly dramatic — no heart wrenching prose — though the tale abounds with angsty opportunities.

I’d forgotten that I’d read one of Shipstead’s earlier works — Astonish Me —about ballet dancing and defection.  She reminds me of Jennifer Egan a bit (I’m a big Egan fan) in the way she can bring clarity to complex topics in a variety of subjects.

A quick warning — I found the first two chapters a little dry — it gets much, much,  better.  Highly recommended.
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There are two concurrent storylines in this 500 page tome-- the story of a woman who wants to be a pilot and has allowed a wealthy man to pay for lifestyle in exchange for total devotion to him- set in the 1920s; an an actress who is attempting to figure out how to portray this woman for a film about her life, as well as attempting to figure out her own life- in present day Los Angeles.

Shipstead has researched early flying extremely well, and there is much technical information regarding airplanes and flight procedures in the '20s. There are many personal scenarios which sometimes become confusing but the parallel storylines work well.
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