I, too, recently joined Book of the Month Club. My first choice was Circling the Sun by Paula McLain. Circling the Sun is historical fiction about Beryl Markham, the first person to fly from Europe to North America. Not only that, but Beryl was the first woman to get her trainer’s license for horses, and she was only 19! While certainly an amazing role model for young women, Beryl was constantly annoying in McLain’s retelling.
I found very little depth in McLain’s Beryl. She seemed equally driven and confused by her mother’s abandonment. At a young age, Beryl and her family moved to Kenya. At five, Beryl’s mother and younger brother left to return to England, leaving Beryl to be raised by her father. Stereotypically, her father has a hard time raising Beryl, and the local Kipsigis Tribe end up being her true guardians throughout her childhood.
This unusual upbringing was cited by Beryl numerous times throughout the book for her wild side, and her refusal to obey class norms (she divorced twice and engaged in numerous affairs, as well as obviously having careers in man-dominated areas), but otherwise, her motivations and aspirations are surprisingly hidden from the reader.
I thoroughly enjoyed the first part of the book, following her childhood and journey to become the youngest and first female trainer with her license to train horses. After that, however, I quickly lost interest.
At one point, McLain even hints at an affair with a young Prince Harry. These annoyingly vague details about Beryl’s sex life did not interest me at all, and I found myself wanting to skim these sections to get back to her adventures with horses or airplanes.
Perhaps the most exciting discovery that came from me reading this novel is that Beryl Markham was a writer and wrote her own memoir, West with the Sun. After reading West with the Sun, Hemingway himself said he was ashamed to be considered a writer as compared to Markham. I have West with the Sun on my “to read” list, and plan on getting to it this winter. I hope it’s more about horses and less about airplanes…