I loved Paula McLain’s previous book The Paris Wife so that when the opportunity came up to review her new novel Circling the Sun I seized the opportunity with both hands. In the same vein as her previous novel, Circling the Sun is a fictionalised account of the life of a historical person – in this case, Beryl Markham. Beryl is raised in Kenya by a father a little out of his depth after his wife heads back to Edwardian England. Rejected from boarding school, running wild on the land, she’s thrown into a marriage at a young age and while this is ultimately unsuccessful, it sets her on a crazy path to determine a future breaking down a lot of barriers set up for women at the time.
The narrative voice in this novel is amazing – the story covers a decent span of Beryl’s life and yet McLain manages to “age” Beryl’s point of view almost seamlessly as she ages from the little girl who plays with the Kipsigis tribe to the jaded woman ready to take on what is quite literally the adventure of a lifetime. It makes for a very cohesive read, one in which your knowledge of Kenya and its’ culture expands through the years with the chief protagonist.
One of the things that I loved most about this text, and I can say this without fair of giving too much away, is that the relationship McLain has you root the most for doesn’t end in a happily ever after. It takes a ballsy author to do this, to “not give the people what they want”, but it makes the story ring true to life. The saying goes that “all it takes is chemistry and timing – but that timing is a bitch”. This was true for Beryl in life and McLain remains faithful to this in the text, something I love her for.
This book is a great read if you are into historical fiction or biographies, but that is by no means its only appeal. This novel also gives an interesting perspective of colonial Africa and examines the role of women in the Edwardian era and what it means to live outside of feminine stereotypes of this time. And then of course there is love: love for family, love and marriage and in the end love for the life you created. As such, I think it will have broad appeal and would be a great novel to curl up with in this bitter winter weather. Grab a copy and try it for yourself!