Book Review

Circling the Sun


After so much praise for her last novel, The Paris Wife, it must have been daunting for this author to approach a follow-up. The woman she chose to chronicle this time around, Beryl Markham, was the first woman ever to fly solo from England to North America, though this is a surprisingly small part of the book. The bulk of it details her childhood in what would become Kenya, her growing up years as a fiercely independent woman in a male-dominated world, and her endless bid for freedom.

Circling the Sun is one of the most lyrically descriptive books I’ve read lately, which is one of the reasons I was desperate to adore it. But I didn’t. Much as I loved the style, I was increasingly frustrated with the pacing, organization, and the search for a point to the book.

The main character was prone to making poor decisions, impulsive decisions. She was scattered in matters of the heart – loving one thing, then another and another, perhaps all in compensation for her mother’s desertion when she was four. By the time she got to flying, I felt she was simply running away. Yes, through the book she seeks freedom, which flying embodies. But with so little here about her actually experience in a plane, flying seemed like just another distraction.

Paula McLain certainly couldn’t change Beryl Markham’s life. But I wish she had been more focused in her retelling of it. And then there’s the title. Does it mean that Beryl is always in orbit, as in, on the move? Or that she is destined to always revolve around bigger and brighter things? Or does it relate to flight (though her solo flight was portrayed as being wholly in the dark)? This was unclear. At the end, like Beryl, I felt unfulfilled. Perhaps this is what the author intended.

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