The rise and fall of the “Garbo of the Skies,” as told by one of New Zealand’s finest novelists. Jean Batten became an international icon in the 1930s. A brave, beautiful woman, she made a number of heroic solo flights across the world. The newspapers couldn’t get enough of her.
In 1934, she broke Amy Johnson’s flight time between England and Australia by six days. The following year, she was the first woman to make the return flight. In 1936, she made the first ever direct flight between England and New Zealand and then the fastest ever trans-Tasman flight. Jean Batten stood for adventure, daring, exploration and glamour.
The Second World War ended Jean’s flying adventures. She suddenly slipped out of view, disappearing to the Caribbean with her mother and eventually dying in Majorca, buried in a pauper’s grave. Fiona Kidman’s enthralling novel delves into the life of this enigmatic woman. It is a fascinating exploration of early aviation, of fame, and of secrecy.
I was excited to read this historical biography, so to speak, of the late aviatrix Jean Batten, mostly because I know shockingly little about the history of aviation. The evolution of transportation never fails to blow my mind. Less than a hundred years ago, flying from the UK to Australia in 14 days and 22 hours was an amazing, record-breaking feat. Today, you can make the same journey in less than a day. Outstanding, is it not? A few decades of technological development, and suddenly we have the world at our fingertips.
I had no idea that so many women were involved in aviation so early on. Usually when we think of female aviators, our minds go straight to Amelia Earhart, so it was nice to learn about the accomplishments of Jean Batten and her contemporaries.
The prose here is quite lovely, and as far as I can tell by browsing a few online articles, most of the details of Jean’s life provided in this novel are true. Ms. Kidman definitely knows how to weave an interesting, colorful narrative while remaining true to the facts.
It pains me to deduct two stars, but I feel that I must. The majority of the book was comprised of summaries of all the things that happened in Jean’s life, with only an occasional smattering of dialogue in between. There are only a handful of full conversations included–those were my favorite parts. Even though I’m glad to have read this book and learned all I did, the way the story was written kept me several feet from the characters, never allowing me to emotionally connect with any of them. Even Jean, as brilliant and accomplished as she was, eluded my heart. If this had been presented as a nonfiction book, this writing style wouldn’t have put me off at all, but as it is marketed as a novel, I expected a little more interaction with the characters.
Overall, The Infinite Air is a good read. I would recommend to those interested in aviation, transportation, and women’s history.
I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.