This epic adventure spans continents, timelines and war. Maggie Shipstead’s extraordinary story of a young woman determined to be a pilot and a Hollywood star hoping to portray the pilot's life over half a century later is a sweeping, adrenaline-charged journey of love, nature, freedom and survival.
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BY MAGGIE SHIPSTEAD
This epic adventure spans continents, timelines and war. Maggie Shipstead’s extraordinary story of a young woman determined to be a pilot and a Hollywood star hoping to portray this woman's life over half a century later is a sweeping, adrenaline-charged journey of love, nature, freedom and survival. Shortlisted for both the 2021 Booker Prize and the 2022 Women’s Prize for Fiction, Great Circle is a tumultuous book club read.
Marian Graves and her twin brother Jamie are rescued at birth by their father from the sinking ‘Josephina Eterna’ of which he is Captain. Disgraced for abandoning his ship, he is imprisoned leaving his brother Wallace as charge of these tiny infants. Marian and Jamie grow up fairly wild, with little school education, but a natural affinity with nature alongside their equally untamed friend, Caleb. All three roam the countryside, swim the creeks and rivers embracing the wilderness. When Marian meets The Flying Brayfogles, it unleashes in her the desire to be free and fly planes. Meanwhile, in 2014 Los Angeles, Hadley Baxter, a Hollywood star has just cheated on her co-star (and therefore the brand) and consequently been dropped by the film franchise. In an effort to escape the scrutiny of the press, Hadley is persuaded to change tact and play the role of Marian Graves in a film based on the aviator’s life, a fitting role for someone who has lost both her parents in a plane crash.
The story follow’s Marian’s quest, as a young woman of no means, to become a skilled aviator, periodically linking it back to the lives of those she has left behind. Over the next decades the story moves from US prohibition to Alaska, through wartime London and finally New Zealand. Hadley, wanting to do justice to her role, begins her own research – will unearthing Marian’s true story allow her peace from her own turbulence?
Shipstead is also a travel writer who has spent time in the Artic, Antarctica, Alaska and New Zealand and so is able to bring her expertise and first-hand detailed knowledge of these places to her writing with such skill and freedom. The details of flying, art, wartime London, modern day Hollywood, every scene and character comes empathetically to life. What probably makes this book even more special, is that it lets us experience so much of the world, at a time when for so long travel has been prohibited. In the video on her website, Maggie Shipstead says she hopes the story “takes you somewhere far away and unexpected” – it certainly did for everyone in the Den.
Hardly surprisingly, there are plans for a TV series for the story in the future.