Circling the Sun

Written by Paula McLain
Review by Kate Braithwaite

Paula McLain, author of the highly successful novel The Paris Wife, returns in Circling the Sun with another fictional biography. This is story of Beryl Markham (née Clutterbuck), a highly unconventional young woman growing up in early 20th-century Kenya. Beryl, abandoned by her mother at the age of four and brought up by her horse-trainer father, has an unusual childhood, running barefoot and hunting with a boy from a local tribe, who becomes a life-long friend.

As Beryl grows up, however, the struggle between her independent nature and society’s expectations becomes the main focus of the novel. She is a free spirit in the conventional world of colonial society and, although she marries twice, the real love of her life is neither husband, but game hunter and aviator Denys Finch Hatton, who is already in an intense relationship with Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa. Beyond her personal life, Beryl is a remarkable and determined character. She becomes the first female certified horse trainer in Kenya at a very young age and has many successes racing her horses. An early aviator, she was the first woman to make a solo trans-Atlantic flight.

Although beautifully written and engrossing, Circling the Sun somehow lacks the emotional appeal of The Paris Wife. Beryl’s character is not always sympathetic, and the love triangle between Karen, Denys and Beryl lacks passion and drama, perhaps because it is only told from Beryl’s point of view from some unstated future point.