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The Crack Magazine

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Book of the Month: Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

There was a time when female pilots captured the imagination of the press – particularly during the early era of flight. Amy Johnson and her airborne ilk were regularly featured in newspapers, and on newsreels, when their daring and skill saw them break various records. (More often than not, the women were pictured leaning against their planes while applying make-up: a condescending trope, which is noted here.) This novel – which made this year’s Booker shortlist – concerns the fictional Marian Graves, a young woman who, after witnessing a husband and wife aerobatic team at a summer fair, dreams of becoming a pilot. She duly achieves this task and then sets about embarking on her greatest challenge: a great circle flight, which will see her circumnavigating the globe. It’s a suitably adventurous tale – full of derring-do – that not only gives us the fullness of Graves’ life, but also that of her brother, her parents, and several more characters besides. The author also finds room to include a timeline that runs in the present day. This timeline concerns Hadley Baxter, a scandal-ridden Hollywood actor who is attempting to bag an Oscar by playing a female pioneer who has now largely fallen out of the public eye: Marian Graves. RM

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