There are two parallel stories in this novel each with its own ferocious female protagonist and I definitely preferred the historic one about Marian Graves, an early aviator. Her story begins as a baby aboard the ship ‘The Josephina Eterna’ which sinks and her father, the captain, is shamed and ultimately imprisoned for jumping onto the life boat with his twin babies rather than relinquishing them to a stranger and staying on board to perish with his crew and male passengers. A character with such an epic start to life has got to be indomitable and Marian doesn’t disappoint. She is the headstrong heroine from every child’s book. Dressing as boy and smuggling booze across boarders in prohibition in her determined plight to fly planes. But somehow, as cliched as it sounds, this book feels innovative and current. And whilst I didn’t relish the modern day story of movie star Hadley who is cast as Marian in the biopic nearly as much as the historic one, I think it is probably her contemporary take on Marian that keeps it fresh. And the writing is beautiful and effortless, Shipstead draws perfectly flawed characters who you can’t help liking, even the drunken gambler uncle who takes Marian and her twin brother Jamie in, he could have been a two dimensional villain but is instead a kind and complex man constantly conflicted by his desires and obligations. Marian lives life on the edge and experiences everything with the extreme intensity you would expect of someone who dices with death for a living. There is love and heartache, phenomenal highs and miserable lows but she always comes back fighting. And Hadley, who is somewhat shallow and heartless despite her refreshingly acerbic tone, finds an inner strength through Marian’s inspiring story. It is a compelling read, packed full of drama and a welcome respite from the relentless misery of the modern world.
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