Great Circle – Maggie Shipstead

Great Circle is the first book I read by Maggie Shipstead, and it will definitely be the last. My book club saw and liked this on the Booker Prize longlist. It reminded me for the last time why I shouldn’t read books that were included in the Booker Prize list from now on. Frankly, when I first read the subject, I got a little excited and thought I might like Great Circle. However, I was left with a massive disappointment of 630 pages.


Great Circle chronicles the life of a female pilot named Marian Graves and all the people associated with her. While reading Marian’s life, we also read the life of Hadley, the lead actress of a film inspired by Marian’s life. The lives of these two women have (forced) similarities. However, these two stories neither add anything to each other nor offer a different perspective. Thanks to Hadley, we learn a few things that are not told in the episodes of Marian’s life. However, it happens with such extraordinary coincidences that I was afraid that my eyes would come out of their places as I rolled them too hard.

Great Circle - Maggie Shipstead

Great Circle has a few characters that are far from reality. I was in awe as I read what these characters did and said. I think the author wanted all her characters to be incredibly deep people. However, she did not give them the lives to capture this depth. It is precisely why a few of them were far from reality, unfortunately. I don’t think the main character, Marian, was fully formed either, but I won’t speak up because she’s good compared to others.

Great Circle is a rather mediocre novel that tries to explain many things and tells nothing. It will be forgotten as soon as it is finished. Also, what was that ending??? Ugh! Great Circle doesn’t give one anything to think about, nor it is a story to remember with pleasure. I cannot recommend it to anyone. But if you like recent Booker Prize books (Really? Why???), you’ll probably like this one too.

Looking for a good Booker winner from the past years? Check out, Hotel du Lac.

Great Circle - Maggie Shipstead

Great Circle

Spanning Prohibition-era Montana, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, New Zealand, wartime London, and modern-day Los Angeles, Great Circle tells the unforgettable story of a daredevil female aviator determined to chart her own course in life, at any cost.

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. Epic and emotional, meticulously researched and gloriously told, Great Circle is a monumental work of art, and a tremendous leap forward for the prodigiously gifted Maggie Shipstead. 

Maggie Shipstead

Maggie Shipstead is the New York Times-bestselling author of the novels Seating Arrangements, Astonish Me, and Great Circle, and the winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize and the L.A. Times Book Prize for First Fiction. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford, and the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Great Circle is currently longlisted for the Booker Prize.

Her writing has appeared in many places, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, Travel + Leisure, Departures, Condé Nast Traveler, Outside, The Best American Short Stories, and The Best American Sports Writing. She lives in Los Angeles.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges: 

Read Around the World, A Great Journey

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