Cover Image: Great Circle

Great Circle

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Great Circle was an intermittently entertaining but deeply flawed attempt at a 600-page epic historical novel: overwritten, overplotted, overwrought. Shipstead's main theme is a lesson in obviousness: real life vs. Hollywood spectacle, with some especially un-insightful ruminations on fame, lust, ambition, addiction, and heroine-worship. The plot machinery creaks, heaves, and lurches, dependent upon old-fashioned contrivances, coincidences, and non-shocking revelations. Shipstead takes a kitchen-sink approach to throwing undigested pieces of historical research and purplish natural description into the narrative.

The novel's chief defect is shallow characterization-- there isn't a single psychologically credible, three-dimensional human in here-- especially the two protagonists. Contemporary Hollywood superstar actress Hadley Baxter is an insufferably trivial and self-indulgent human who's playing the onscreen role of the intrepid yet mysterious yet damaged mid-century aviatrix Marian Graves, and gradually investigating the dark corners and closets of her dramatically over-eventful life.

Not surprisingly, the movie version wallpapers over the most enigmatic moments, repressed traumas, and unsolved mysteries of Marian's biography in favor of cheesy, escapist melodrama. But the novel itself reads like it was written to be adapted into a cheesily escapist melodramatic movie starring Jennifer Lawrence or a binge-able Netflix series with high production values.

The Hollywood chapters verged upon unreadable, just one glib cliché after another, and a judicious editor would have jettisoned that half of the book to produce a much tighter 300-page WWII novel about female pilots and their postwar PTSD. I do have to admit that the final 100 pages, wherein Marian perilously circumnavigates the planet from pole to pole, were incredibly gripping.

Like many of you Booker completists who resolutely slogged their way through Great Circle, I am highly dubious that this is a Booker-worthy novel. However, it might be a Pulitzer-worthy upper-middlebrow novel with just enough literary pretension or ambition to become a bestseller for people who don't usually read literary fiction: like Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch or Anthony Doerr's All The Light We Cannot See.
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This feels like the perfect almost-post pandemic novel. After 15 months indoors, who doesn't want to read about a woman who manages to escape her isolated, neglected childhood and fly to the ends of the earth? Yes, it's a long book, but it moves fast, never feels bogged down, and leads you on an exhilarating ride from the early days of aviation to modern Hollywood.
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If you are interested in aviation, this is a book for you. It is a dual timeline with one being a young girl who is learning to fly in the early days of aviation contrasted with an actress playing this young aviator in a movie. Very interesting about planes and the challenges faced by those that pioneered that field. I knocked off one star because of an odd Native American storyline that just didn’t seem to fit. Overall highly recommended 
#netgalley #maggieshipstead #knoft
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I struggled so much with this book, not as much for being a lenghty read, but for being a confusing one. There are different plots twisting, characters are nicely described, I do have difficulty imagining some situations since they are so hard to believe.

What I really enjoyed is a well-versed sentences.

I am so sad that this read wasn’t a good choice for me, maybe it’s just a wrong time, but I wish author good luck, there is potential there!

Thank you Netgalley for an arc!
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This book was a hard one for me. I tried three times to pick it up, first getting to 5%, second time to 10% last time made it all the way to 20% when i realized it just was not for me. 
The writing was too slow and I did not care about the story or the characters enough to keep reading for 10 more hours about them so sadly it was a DNF for me with this book .
The premise sounded great but the buildup it just did not catch my attention
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There is a lot to be said about Great Circle. Passion and grit come to mind. A story that is a dual timeline. It centers around Marian Graves a pilot and Hadley Baxter an actress. Two women who are navigating their way through life but dealing with issues relevant to their time periods. Resilient, strong yet vulnerable.  After suffering similar losses the parallels between them are believable. Sometimes you have to loose yourself to find yourself. There are some twists that help to keep the reader engaged. I found some parts of this novel to be absorbing and other sections distracting. Good secondary character development also helps propel the story. Thank you #NetGalley #GreatCircle for the ARC. All opinions are my own.
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This was such an epic and sweeping novel. There is nothing not to like in this! The parallel storylines of Marian and Hadley were a joy and I loved how the characters had so many similarities to their lives with fame and their childhoods but ultimately addressed their lives challenges in different ways which is certainly a sign of the times. How amazing would the opportunities been for Marian if she was on today’s timeline?

I adored all of the settings and think that this was an amazing novel- at over 600 pages it had better be! 5 stars- I would highly recommend for others to jump in and go on this amazing adventure to the Great Circle.
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There’s so much to like in this powerhouse novel. It’s the story of Marian Graves, an aviator who disappeared during a flight around the earth, crossing both the North and South poles. Marian and her twin Jamie began their lives as infant survivors of the tragic sinking of an ocean liner in 1914. But their father’s desire to save the babies lead to misfortune. Raised by an uncle, the pair were left free to roam and live wild in Montana. At the tender age of fourteen, Marian catches the eye of a wealthy man. This is the start of her atypical life that is filled with unusual relationships and her single-minded focus on her passion for flight.

A second plotline is set 100 years in the future when a famous Hollywood actress is hired to play the same Marian in an upcoming movie about the mystery of the celebrated aviator’s disappearance. The movie star, Hadley, has her own personal issues but she wants this role to cement her acting reputation. As she becomes more and more familiar with the real Marian Graves, she uncovers hints about who Marian really was and clues about her disappearance. 

Hadley and Marion’s upbringing are somewhat parallel. Hadley, like Marian, was raised by her uncle and she too had an unconventional childhood. Another similarity is the two women’s celebrity status. This mirroring of the two is a nice touch and makes Hadley’s story more connected. But it’s Marian who steals the show and the plot.

There are critical historic events and places that are incorporated in this epic novel that spans the globe. They include news-making events such as sinking ships, early women’s aviation, WWII, missing aviators and also contemporary celebrity life in LA. But Shipstead has made this about so much more than sensational news. 

The characters are atypical, richly imbued with their own unique personalities. Probably the most memorable are the twins. Their story is touching and vibrant. The pair will remain in readers’ minds long after the book is finished. Even the secondary characters are vividly presented and add to the richness of the story.

As the plot and the characters evolve, the ending brings the story full circle. This is a book that delights and soars. Marion’s love of flight is central to the story and readers will be lifted up by this adventurous tale of a woman who never wavered from her goal as she aspired to do the seemingly impossible.
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Honestly I was a little disappointed in this book. I saw it had rave reviews from a lot of people, but it fell a little flat for me. I wasn't a fan of the characters and truly only felt a connection to Hadley. However, I don't feel like her story line was developed as well as it could have been. Overall only 2/5 stars for me.
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Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this book. The writing was beautifully descriptive and I enjoyed that, but I found it to be a little too long for my liking. I couldn’t keep myself interested. I think this is a great one for those who enjoy long, detailed stories and dual timelines.
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I was so excited to read this book and it did not disappoint!
The plot was so intriguing to me and I felt that it delivered immensely. I was hooked to the book the entire time I was reading it. Very enjoyable, would definitely recommend.
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There are many elements in this story with dual timelines. I loved Marian.s story and thought it was very well written. 
Many thanks to Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group and to NetGalley for providing me with a galley in exchange for my honest opinion.
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Fantastic book! Below are links to BookBrowse's review and "beyond the book" article. And I have pasted the full text of the review below which was sent to Emily Reardon on July 9.


Beyond the Book: Elinor Smith 

Maggie Shipstead's Great Circle follows the lives of two fictional women: Prohibition-era aviatrix Marian Graves and contemporary actress Hadley Baxter, who lands the role of Marian in an upcoming movie. When approached about the film, Hadley has just blown up her life by creating a scandal she knew would likely get her ousted from the franchise that made her career. Feeling a certain kinship with Marian (both were orphaned as infants and raised by dissolute uncles), she accepts the role, dreaming of Oscar glory for her participation in her first "serious" film. Alternating with Hadley's first-person account is the third-person narration of Marian's life, from the circumstances surrounding her birth to her fate decades later.

The bulk of the story is Marian's, and Shipstead fleshes out her life in such believable detail I found it hard to remember the character wasn't a real person. Although Marian's passion for flying underlies every part of her narrative, the book is less about her exploits as a pilot and the lengths she goes to achieve her aims and more about her journey of self-discovery. The author brilliantly illustrates the many factors in Marian's life that mold her into the person she becomes by her last flight. We develop an in-depth understanding of this remarkable character and are loath to let her go.

Hadley's chapters are briefer, and although they cover a shorter time period, her journey feels just as real as Marian's. She's pretty obnoxious at first, a stereotypical entitled Hollywood starlet, but as she becomes more involved with the film and the people behind its production, she develops a complexity that ultimately makes her more sympathetic. As with Marian, the author creates a multifaceted character in Hadley, one who feels real to the reader.

Shipstead's writing is gorgeous from start to finish, whether she's describing the countryside ("October leans into November. The trees are topped with gold, the cottonwoods bright as apricot flesh. The landscape flares and shimmers"); Marion's observations ("With the right instruments, you have a fighting chance of leveling out even if the cloud goes all the way down and brushes the earth like the marabou hem of a diaphanous white robe worn by God"); or Hadley's perceptions ("[S]he just sat there and stared like she was trying to turn me to stone with her mind. Or maybe she couldn't move her face. She's starting to have work done. In twenty years she'll be a skin balloon with eyeholes").

There's just enough of this lush writing to entertain, but not so much that it bogs down the narrative. Also interspersed are bits of aviation history as they occurred during Marion's timeline. For example, the author inserts a couple of paragraphs about Charles Lindbergh's historic transatlantic flight in 1927 that occurs just as 13-year-old Marion is becoming acquainted with a pair of barnstormers who take her on her first flights.

I occasionally find dual timelines confusing or annoying (sometimes the characters are too similar, sometimes the jump between them happens too frequently, sometimes I feel one or more storyline could have been jettisoned, etc.). Such was not the case with Great Circle. Switches between the two stories are so expertly crafted I'm hard-pressed to name a novel that accomplishes this feat more skillfully. At around 600 pages, the book is also quite long; however, I never felt like it was a slog. I'll sometimes come across a doorstopper and think about how it could have been edited into a more manageable length, but not this time; there's not a single sentence I'd have wanted left out. Although I wouldn't call it a page-turner, its pacing is excellent and it kept me engaged, start to finish.

Great Circle is one of my favorites of the year so far, and I'd unhesitatingly suggest it to anyone looking for an exquisite, character-driven work of literature.

Reviewed by Kim Kovacs
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I didn’t love Maggie Shipstead’s Great Circle, although I might have enjoyed it more were the novel shorter by half. We follow two storylines — each feeling like they were written in turn by Kate Quinn and Taylor Jenkins Reid — the primary one of which concerns the extraordinary life of a pioneering female pilot (starting with her parents and their backstories), and intertwined, the story of a modern day movie star and her efforts to reinvent herself as a serious actor by portraying the pilot in an indy film. The novel is stuffed with interesting historical details — the sinking of a Lusitania-type ship at the brink of WWI, rum-running during Prohibition, the RAF’s use of female pilots to move planes around Britain during WWII — but it went on far too long for me, gave too much space to secondary characters (the pilot didn’t need to have a twin brother and I didn’t need to know everything about his life), and took so long to reach the crescendo of the plot that my flagging interest was hard to re-engage. There was much I liked in the pilot’s story, little I cared about in the Hollywood thread, but I appreciate that the chiming between the two storylines — that infinity of great circles that intersected their unrelated lives — was rather the point; there was, unfortunately, no payoff in this reading experience (emotionally or intellectually) that rewarded me for what felt like an overlong engagement.
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Maggie Shipstead is a jewel. I fall into her stories and never want them to end. The characters in Great Circle are fully drawn and developed. Their individual lives ensnare, captivate, and intertwine. Told in two timelines, this is one of the generational sagas that is just so, so good.  I won’t regurgitate the plot. Read this beautiful story for the exemplary prose, characterization, and tight plot. It’s a novel you won’t want to miss!
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This is a story of Marian and Jamie Graves who are rescued by their father from a sinking ocean liner.When their father’s cowardly ways come to light they are raised by their alcoholic uncle.They are left to pretty much raise theirselves.Marian becomes a famous pilot who travels the world during a time when women struggled for equality during the 30s and 40s.This is a great story of a woman who sees so much of the world during her lifetime but still seeks the love that escapes her.Great description of her world travels.
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I'm so torn with my review of this one! It took me awhile to get through. While I loved the aspect of Marian and her passion with flying, I felt like the book drug on and on. There were so many things I would have taken out in order to make it a quicker read that held my interest more. I felt like Hadley could have been taken out entirely and just focused on how amazing Marian was. She was fierce and determined...a great heroine for pushing for your dreams with everything you possess. Sometimes dual time periods work really well, and sometimes they don't. I would have preferred this one stayed in the historical fiction time frame. I know many other people have adored everything about this book though, so it depends on each reader's preference! 

I received an arc in exchange for my honest review through NetGalley. These opinions are all my own.
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I listened to this book in audio and it was one of the longest audiobooks I've ever made it through and totally worth it! I loved that the audio had two narrators to match the book's narrators. I loved Marian Graves' story but wasn't quite as invested in Hadley's story BUT I did love the way they overlap and come together. I thought the plotting was *chef's kiss and overall the story was epic and masterful. I left a star off just because I wasn't sure it needed to be as long as it was...I am already recommending it to people, though!
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I added this book to my tbr list a few months ago. It was a must for me.
As a student pilot, very passionate about all that concerns aviation, I decided that this was going to be one of the best reads of the year. And I was not wrong.
Going through Marian's life and later disappearance, I learned a lot about how difficult was life before for someone with such a passion.
Also, we jump into Hadley's life, an actress that is going to play Marian in an upcoming movie.
I found the book very inspiring and emotional. Definitely will recommend it to my friends and colleagues.
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he “great circle” is the path that fictional pilot Marian Graves wants to trace — from the North to the South Pole. In reading the story of her accounts, we realize that the collective arcs of our individual stories turn out to be equally stunning. In mapping Marian’s “great circle” of life, from early abandonment as a baby, to life with her twin brother, growing up in the ruggedness of Montana, and serving in World War II, Shipstead paints a sweeping and majestic portrait of an unforgettable and spunky heroine. This is a novel to sink into and savor slowly.
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