Posted: Tue 2nd Nov 2021

Former mayor of Mold Bob Gaffey reviews this year’s Booker Prize nominees: Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Tuesday, Nov 2nd, 2021

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The Booker Prize is the leading literary award in the English speaking world and has brought recognition, reward and readership to outstanding fiction for over five decades.

Each year, the prize is awarded to what is, in the opinion of the judges, the best novel of the year written in English and published in the UK and Ireland. It is a prize that transforms the winner’s career.

Anuk Arudpragasam, Damon Galgut, Patricia Lockwood, Nadifa Mohamed, Richard Powers and Maggie Shipstead are today announced have been shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize for Fiction.

The former mayor of Mold, Bob Gaffey has reviewed all six Booker-shortlisted books which will be published on in the run-up to the award announcement day of Nov 3.

Bob is also a keen writer is set to release a book for Mold’s first Bookfest in May 2022.

All this year Booker nominee reviews:

Bob reviews Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead  – The lives of a fearless female aviator and the actress who portrays her on screen decades later intersect in Maggie Shipstead’s vivid, soaring novel


Great Circle – Review by Bob Gaffey 

The novel is mainly about Marian Graves being obsessed about flying around the world on the most dangerous route, ie. over the poles. She was born in 1914 as well as her twin Jamie. The main part of the story is her life with all its ups and downs. There are several other major characters involved in her story: Barclay who she marries, her uncle who has to bring up the twins, Ruth who she falls for, Caleb, her childhood friend who develops into her lover, amongst others. These characters also are very important for the development of the novel. Another parallel story is of Hadley Baxter, an actress in Hollywood in the 21st century. She has the major role of acting Marian’s life which was very colourful. We get to see the life and loves of the poor, little, rich girl who is a film star. All her lovers and mishaps are all over the social and mainstream media. The lives of these 2 major characters are compared and contrasted. Marian had a very Huck Finn upbringing whereas Hadley has one where she is a child star and all the rich trappings from that. We also get to read about the people in Hadley’s life. Thus it’s a lot like a Tolstoy novel where there are lots of characters who become very important to the story and some who disappear.

About 90 pages into the novel I realised that I was completely lost and this was even after reading the general notes that I’d kept for a review. I had to start the novel again and write lots of detailed notes so that I could refer back to them when I got lost. This I had to do often, unfortunately. The 6 books shortlisted average about 300 pages if you leave this book out which has 608. One book has 224 pages, another 278. Usually when I read a book I look forward to picking it up and continue reading but not with this one. I was indifferent to the characters and forced myself to finish the book. It reminded me of my teaching years where sometimes I had to read stuff which didn’t interest me but had to do. I was paid to do that as a teacher, I wasn’t for this book.

The book constantly jumped forwards and backwards in time for different characters which was very intellectually challenging. It felt like having a massive jigsaw puzzle which fills a room. However, you have to do sections separately and when that picture appears and you can see where it goes into the big picture, you then put the section in. Reading a novel should be a pleasure not an incredibly challenging process. Obviously I hope that this book does not win the Booker this year. If it does massive sales will result and I think most will not finish the book. This will reinforce the attitude that this is too high faluting, too literary for the common man. Let them carry on living in their academic towers, we will stick to Rowling and Le Carre.

The strengths of the book is that it’s well written, the author weaves people’s lives well together and keeps with historical facts eg. WW2. She makes some valid points about Britain and the USA at different times in their modern history. She makes some good points about relationships and how they change over time. A great deal of research has gone into the book on planes before 1939, flying, Antartica and other subjects. However, it didn’t work for me even though I get the impression it must have taken a couple of years to write.

About the author 

Maggie Shipstead is an American novelist who lives in Los Angeles. She is shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize with Great Circle – her third novel.

Her debut, Seating Arrangements, was a New York Times bestseller in 2012 and won the Dylan Thomas Prize and LA Times Book Prize for First Fiction.

She is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, a former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford and a two-time National Magazine Award finalist for fiction.

Great Circle was inspired by a statue of New Zealand’s Jean Batten at Auckland airport.

Shipstead’s plan was to write a book about ‘scale, travel and what it means to live a life that’s truly free’. She has a collection of short stories coming out next summer.

About Bob Gaffey

Bob Gaffey was mayor of Mold between 2017 and 2018.

He spent six years as a town councillor in Mold, raising more than £10,000 towards the restoration of Bailey Hill in the town as part of a project to turn the former Norman settlement into an outdoor attraction.

The funds were raised by holding events during his time as mayor in 2017/18.

The former union representative is currently chair of the Wrexham, Denbighshire and Flintshire branch of Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales and the Delyn branch of Plaid Cymru.

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