Cover Image: Great Circle

Great Circle

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Member Reviews

I have really mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, the writing was great. On the other, it is so much longer than it needed to be. There are entire plotlines that don't need to be there. Why do we need to know Marian and Jamie's parents at all, let alone how they met and why the kids were conceived and how the mother felt... they never knew their parents so it felt bizarre that we were forced to spend so much time with them. The book is purportedly about a pioneer female aviator who goes missing. I was excited to read that, and I enjoyed when the book finally got there in the last 10-15%.

There was just enough to keep me interested for the long, long, LONG trek to the actual point of the novel, but I imagine it would be a slog for anyone who wasn't invested in where the story was going.

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Maggie Shipstead just gets better and better. She has written an epic here and it is magnificent! The history of women in flight, prohibition rum running, WWII, the Artic, Hollywood moviemaking -- her canvas spans the world and six decades. It is full of interesting, believable characters who take up residence in the reader's heart and it is full of capital B big ideas -- the vast expanse of loneliness, obsession, control, devotion, family. Her ability to evoke a sense of place -- the wilds of Montana, the icy desolation of the Artic -- is award-worthy. It's all here and it's glorious, multiple stories to sink into, to hold your breath, to wipe your tears.

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This book is a masterpiece! The sheer scope of the timeline, the depths of the characters, the pacing, the ingenious storytelling... I was honestly blown away. I'm expecting this to win ALL the awards.

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This is a sweeping, epic account of the fictitious Marian Graves—a woman pilot who eventually sets out to fly around the world via the North and South Poles. But this book is so much more. It’s her life from beginning to end—the struggle to follow one’s dreams in a century that limited the endeavors of women and relegated them to being homemakers and mothers. It’s about the unrelentingly fire of the human spirit. It’s about the messiness and complexity of being human —that even heroes and heroines—while beautiful, strong, brave and courageous can still be selfish and fallible. It’s a fiction story, but oddly it feels true —true to being human.

Loved this book! Highly recommend.

Podcast review -- will drop on 3/30/21.

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I initially saw this book being posted around Bookstagram and it honestly didn't really sound like something I would like, but I decided to try it anyway. I started the book and honestly, it was very slow in the beginning. I decided to stick it out. I am so glad I did. Now I want to read her other novels! I really enjoyed how the novel worked in the two separate, but connected timelines. The first is in that of Marian Graves, set in roughly 1909 to 1950. The second is more contemporary, set in Hollywood 2014, of a young actress set to play Graves, a legendary female aviator, in the biopic. Marian's story, along with that of her twin brother Jamie, is an amazing one of fear, courage, and a great adventure. It involves star-crossed lovers, bootleggers, prostitutes, hunters, and trackers-to name just a few. In Marian's timeline, the author takes readers to prohibition Montana, Alaska, Seattle, wartime London, wartime Alaska, a German POW camp, the South Pacific, and finally on a pole-to-pole round the world flight during which Marian's plane disappears. In the more modern timeline, actress Hadley Baxter is starting to really get to know herself and Marian in a world where women make mistakes and men are forgiven for them. While I really enjoyed the adventure aspect of the book, it must be said that there is so much more to this novel. Reading Marian’s journal about being a woman in a man’s world positions her as a feminist role model but the existential musings are humanly poignant. This ended up being a five-star read for me and Maggie Shipstead just got a new fan!

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I *loved* this book. It's You know that feeling when you read a novel and it's so vivid that you keep wanting to google something to learn more about it? I can't remember the last time a book gave me that feeling about as many different things as this one did. It's a bit slow to start, but it's so utterly worth it. This book has everything: women who want to fly, bootleggers, queer love, soaring skies, philosophical notions, surprising beginnings and astounding endings.

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This book was a great adventure to read! The writing is good, the stories of Marian, Jamie, Caleb and Harley blend well together. I know it’s all fiction, but I had to keep telling myself that it IS fiction.

Our book club needs to read this. All book groups, women, men and people who love a well written adventure will love this book.

Thanks to Netgalley for offering this book to me.

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There are so many things to love about this transporting, epic novel - the sweep of history, a daredevil female aviator who loves flying almost more than anything, bootlegging, war and on - but what I loved most was the sibling relationship at the heart of this novel. The bond between Marian and Jamie Graves began from their being rescued as babies from a sinking ocean liner and travels through their adoption in Montana by their eccentric, somewhat lost artist uncle to their separate quests to fulfill their dreams, one of becoming an artist and the other of achieving incredible feats of endurance flight. I loved their story, which will stay with me for a long time.

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This story has two tracks - one focused on Marian in the early 1900's who, along with her brother, was essentially orphaned as infants and raised by their uncle in Montana. The second story line follows Hadley, an actress who is playing Marian in a movie.

It was quite interesting to read about Marian's life. She became obsessed with flying and became one of the best pilots - from Alaska, to WW2. Her brother explore his artistic talents as he found his place in the world. Marian liked to push the envelope and aimed to fly around the world from the North Pole to the South Pole.

This story is an epic that will stick with me for a while.

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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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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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