Great Circle By Maggie Shipstead: Book's Review & Summary

Interview: Maggie Shipstead, Author Of 'Great Circle' : NPR

Maggie Shipstead’s “Great Circle” is a work of historical fiction that tells the epic story of Marian Graves, a daring aviator who embarks on a mission to circumnavigate the globe in the early 20th century. With the help of her passionate and adventurous ancestors, Shipstead creates a world that is both familiar and exciting, where the lines between reality and fiction blur together seamlessly. In this article, we will delve into the themes and ideas presented in this remarkable novel, the author’s writing style, and the book’s strengths and weaknesses. We will also compare it to other works in its genre and give our overall impression of the book and whether we would recommend it to others.

The Main Themes and Ideas of “Great Circle”

“Great Circle” is a novel that is full of adventure, romance, and heartbreak. It explores the themes of ambition, legacy, the power of flight, and the sacrifices we make in order to achieve our dreams. Marian Graves is a character who embodies these themes, as she struggles against social norms and gender barriers that seek to keep her grounded. Throughout her journey, Marian encounters a cast of characters who each represent their own unique perspectives on what it means to achieve greatness. These characters serve as a reminder that success often comes at a price and that the journey towards greatness is fraught with obstacles.

Shipstead’s portrayal of the aviation industry is both accurate and captivating. She captures the pride and passion of the men and women who devoted their lives to flying, while also painting a vivid picture of the dangers and risks that came with this profession. The history of flight, as well as the socio-economic and political climate of the early 20th century, is seamlessly woven into the fabric of the novel, providing readers with a rich tapestry of time and place.

Writing Style and Effectiveness of the Author

Shipstead’s writing is both lyrical and descriptive, imbuing the story with a cinematic quality that draws the reader in. Her prose is often poetic, and her descriptions of the natural world are vivid and colorful, evoking the majesty and beauty of the earth’s many landscapes.

The novel also features an array of complex characters who display a wide range of emotions and motivations. Shipstead deftly weaves together these varying perspectives, immersing the reader in a world that is both exciting and deeply emotional.

One of the key strengths of the novel is its ability to hold the reader’s attention throughout its sprawling narrative. While the story spans several decades and numerous locations, Shipstead manages to maintain a consistent level of tension and intrigue, never allowing the reader to become complacent or bored. Her pacing is masterful, and she knows exactly when to ratchet up the tension and when to allow for moments of quiet contemplation.

Strengths and Weaknesses of “Great Circle”

One of the strengths of “Great Circle” is its ability to transport the reader to another time and place. The novel immerses readers in an adventure that is both exciting and epic, reminding us that greatness comes at a cost. Shipstead’s portrayals of her characters are nuanced and complex, depicting them in all their flawed humanity, and her writing is consistently engaging throughout the novel.

One potential weakness of the novel is its sprawling narrative, which can be difficult to keep track of at times. While the complex story is one of its strengths, some readers may find it overwhelming or confusing. Additionally, some readers may find the characters’ motivations and actions to be unrealistic or unrelatable, which could detract from their enjoyment of the book.

Comparison to Other Works in Its Genre

“Great Circle” is a novel that is at once familiar and completely original. While it shares similarities with other historical fiction novels that explore themes of adventure and ambition, Shipstead’s masterful prose and vivid descriptions set it apart from its peers. Fans of novels such as “The Aviator’s Wife” by Melanie Benjamin or “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah will find much to enjoy in this book.

Our Overall Impression and Recommendation

“Great Circle” is a remarkable novel that is sure to captivate readers with its epic narrative and complex characters. Maggie Shipstead’s writing is poetic and engaging, and her ability to weave together multiple storylines into a cohesive whole is impressive. While some readers may find the sprawling narrative to be overwhelming, for those who are looking for a rich and rewarding reading experience, “Great Circle” is a must-read.


Q: Who is Maggie Shipstead?

A: Maggie Shipstead is an American author who has won numerous awards for her writing, including the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction. She is the author of two other novels, “Seating Arrangements” and “Astonish Me.”

Q: What is “Great Circle” about?

A: “Great Circle” is a historical novel that tells the story of Marian Graves, an aviator who sets out to circumnavigate the globe in the early 20th century. The novel explores themes of ambition, legacy, and sacrifice, and immerses readers in a world full of adventure and romance.

Q: Is “Great Circle” worth reading?

A: Yes, “Great Circle” is a must-read for fans of historical fiction and those who enjoy epic stories that span multiple eras and locations. The novel’s richly drawn characters and engaging prose make it a rewarding and memorable reading experience.

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