Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

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Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The lightly-fictionalised story of Beryl Markham, aviator and racehorse trainer. Superbly written and a great read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432/11h43m Date: September 2016
Publisher: Fleet
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1844088300

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Richard and Judy Book Club Autumn 2016

Beryl Clutterbuck was just two when she was taken by her parents from Abingdon in England to Kenya, to a farm at Njoro in the Rongai Valley in what was then the British East African Protectorate and which would become Kenya. Her mother was dismayed - amazed that her father would have sold everything to get little more than a few mud huts - and it was only a couple of years before she returned home with Dickie, Beryl's brother, leaving Beryl and her father to cope as best they could. Beryl grew up wild - largely brought up by the local tribespeople - and was catapulted into a disastrous marriage when she was just sixteen. It taught her one thing, though - she needed to take charge of her own destiny.

We first meet Beryl at the age of 32, though - and she's in the cockpit of a Vega Gull, determined to be the first person to fly westward across the Atlantic ocean to North America. It means staying awake for 36 hours and allowing fuel tanks to run dry before she toggles over to the next tank. She's been warned that the engine will stutter but will pick up again as the fuel gets through - only it doesn't seem to be happening and it's at moments like that we're told that your life flashes before you. And that's what happens to Beryl Markham as she then was.

One of my all-time favourite films is Out of Africa, the account of Karen Blixen's life whilst living in Kenya and her relationship with great white hunter, Denys Finch Hatton. Paula McLain's lightly fictionalised life of Beryl Markham shines a light from a different angle on much the same group of people. McLain perfectly captures the brittle glamour of the 1920's Happy Valley set with their dual standards about adultery (acceptable) and divorce (unacceptable for women). Her portrayal of Beryl's life as a scandalous divorcee is brilliant, but what gave me the most pleasure was the way that Beryl took charge of her own destiny in an age when women were regarded as chattels. Her achievements in the world of horse racing and aviation were exceptional and McLain isn't shy about letting us know of the hard work that went into getting there. Beryl impressed me, but better still, I felt that McLain liked and respected her.

What people know best about Beryl Markham is her transatlantic flight and I'll confess to having been a little reluctant to start reading the book as I was sure that it would be the flight which would take up most of the story, but - in fact - it's hardly mentioned, other than to bookend the story of Markham's life. It was a daring, but brilliant decision, because it's Markham's early life which fuels the flight rather than the flight which brought the rest of her life into the spotlight.

As well as reading the book, I listened to an audio download (which I bought myself) narrated by Suzannah Hampton. It was particularly enjoyable: Hampton has a good range of voices and I was never in any doubt about who was speaking. I was sorry when I got to the end!

And when I did get to the end it struck me that it was such a pity that Out of Africa is quite such an iconic film as this story could be even better.

Circling the Sun is a Richard and Judy Book Club book for autumn 2016. From their 2009 list you might like to try The Bolter by Frances Osborne.

Buy Circling the Sun by Paula McLain at Amazon You could get a free audio download of Circling the Sun by Paula McLain with a 30-day Audible free trial at

Buy Circling the Sun by Paula McLain at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Circling the Sun by Paula McLain at

Buy Circling the Sun by Paula McLain at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Circling the Sun by Paula McLain at


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