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The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard
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The Transit of Venus (original 1980; edition 1990)

by Shirley Hazzard

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7431312,532 (3.85)63
Member:LukeS
Title:The Transit of Venus
Authors:Shirley Hazzard
Info:Penguin (Non-Classics) (1990), Paperback, 352 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
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The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard (1980)

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A beautiful book, it showed me what good literature could aspire to be. ( )
  the.pen.stealer | Dec 28, 2013 |
Still struck by the insights offered into relationships and what we know or don't know about people. Very good too on erotic attachment. ( )
  AnnB2013 | Mar 14, 2013 |
Stunning. I just finished it, after a long savor. The writing style is dense, complex, sometimes elliptical. There are entire stretches where profound observation is evident in almost every sentence. This is not a quick read, but very rewarding. It is also a demanding book, and it must be read closely. I read the last chapters with a sense of awe. ( )
  Queenofcups | Jan 27, 2013 |
One can assume the characters in Shirley Hazzard’s "The Transit of Venus" have guiding principles in their lives, a moral framework by which to behave. After all, they lead exemplary outward lives for the most part. However, when Venus transits between them and their principles, when love gets in the way, everything turns to heartache and loss. For multiple characters, thoughts run toward suicide.

Some of what follows will make the reader think this is a dreary or depressing book, because people do suffer disappointment and yearning, sometimes for many years. But the experience of reading The Transit of Venus will redeem you; the author’s rich prose concoction not only intoxicates on an aesthetic level, but also stimulates reflection on the vagaries of human relationships.

This novel lives in several thematic neighborhoods. One thought Ms. Hazzard repetitively focuses on is the insurmountable gap between what people feel and what they say. She expresses this chasm in chopped-up, incomplete conversational sentences, in which trite and over-worn phrases are thought of, and not always even spoken. People speak or think in these fragments and the effect is extraordinary and blunting. People hide their emotions from everyone except themselves. Several times, while the author was carrying this off, I wanted to yell at the character, “Get real for once! Just say what’s on your mind.”

Morality is another lynchpin here. And by morality I mean the scale which measures what people do or don’t do for each other – the balance of their motivation: does it tilt toward themselves or toward others? This book is replete with selfishness, particularly on the part of the male characters. Characters keep a running score of the ebb and flow of personal power in relationships (or Ms. Hazzard does it for them), and the tides of these skirmishes shift back and forth in single conversations. (That feature reminded me of Henry James, but with a clear narrative flow.)

A tall, lovely woman named Caroline (“Caro”) Bell lives at the center of this narrative, and is thoroughly buffeted by its events. Her sister Grace is lovely too, with a strong resemblance to Caro, albeit more lightly complected. Because of a fatal accident on a Sydney Harbor ferry in which they lose both parents, the sisters grow up with a relation named Dora, who is stunningly selfish and self-dramatizing – always working for advantage through a combination of brow-beating and playing the martyr. The girls reach adulthood in Great Britain with grave misgivings about life and people, and barely have the wherewithal to support each other. The inclination is there, but the training, or custom, is not.

Enter the men: Paul Ivory is a handsome, fashionable playwright, at ease with others either singly or in large groups. It isn’t long before Caro falls in love with him. Ted Tice, an astronomer, falls in love with Caro at about the same time. Christian Thrale, son of a stuffy, distinguished scientist, opts for Grace early on, considering Caro a bit too rich for his blood. Relationships come and go – or let’s say the assignations are there for the plucking – and the men generally skirt around the consequences, playing havoc with the female populace. Caro’s Paul marries into nobility and money, but Caro eventually finds an American philanthropist, happiness and marriage, in New York. Quite near the end of the book, the reason for the continual and unexplained emotional undercurrent – the hatred and recrimination displayed mostly by Ted and Paul – becomes clear. Suffice it so say, the final alignments are what they should be.

The stunning emotional depth of this novel – Ms. Hazzard catches with pinpoint precision the internal dialogs of love and pain and yearning – gives it its great gravitas. That, and the author’s clear moral stance. The emotions are obviously a great strength – this book plumbs even greater depths than her National Book Award-winning The Great Fire (2003) (a book I greatly treasure and honor). The diction, which ranges from stunted and halting to full, sophisticated and eloquent, provides an exact gauge for characters’ commitment or openness.

This review is running to excess. I would love to tackle main character Caro in more depth, but alas … Nevertheless, this book is another example of why I pick up books in the first place. It rewards, it impresses, it lets me live for a while with a stunningly brilliant writer and just … be taken along for the ride.

http://bassoprofundo1.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-transit-of-venus-by-shirley-hazza... ( )
  LukeS | Nov 11, 2012 |
Shirley Hazzard’s novel, The Transit of Venus is beautifully written: the language was wonderful, very descriptive. There were some excellent scenes. The characters, however, leave a lot to be desired. They all seemed to be either nasty or weak, or sometimes both. There wasn’t anyone there to really love or believe in. For lovers of language, this would be a satisfactory experience, but if you value the story as much as the language, you might be disappointed. I got to the last paragraph and was completely confused, having dismissed an earlier vital clue as an extraneous detail. I had to go online to read some discussion groups before I had figured it out. I’m not sure the reading experience, the quality of the writing, was worth the effort for the final outcome. I found it heavy going. I’ll hesitate before devoting time to another Shirley Hazzard book. ( )
  CloggieDownunder | Mar 16, 2012 |
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Epigraph
J'ai reve tellement fort de toi, J'ai tellement marche, tellement parle, Tellement aime ton ombre, Qu'il ne me reste plus rien de toi. Robert Desnos "Le Dernier Poeme"
Dedication
Once more, for Francis
First words
By nightfall the headlines would be reporting devastation.
Quotations
One morning a girl whose father had been in America came to school [in Australia] with nibless pens that wrote both red and blue, pencils with lights attached, a machine that would emboss a name and pencil sharpeners in clear celluloid. Set out on a classroom table, these silenced even Miss Holster. The girls leaned over, picking up this and that. No one could say these objects were ugly, for they were spread on the varnished table like flints from an age unborn, or evidence of life on Mars. It was the first encounter with calculated uselessness.
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Book description
VIRAGO EDITION:
Caro, gallant and adventurous, is one of two Australian sisters who have come to post-war England to seek their fortunes. Courted long and hopelessly by young scientist, Ted Tice, she is to find that love brings passion, sorrow, betrayal and, finally, hope. The milder Grace seeks fulfilment in an apparantly happy marriage. But, as the decades pass and the characters weave in and out of each other's lives, love, death and two slow-burning secrets wait in ambush for them. This beautiful, intelligent novel won the USA National Book Circle Award for Best Novel of 1980.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140107479, Paperback)

The Transit of Venus is considered Shirley Hazzard's most brilliant novel. It tells the story of two orphan sisters, Caroline and Grace Bell, as they leave Australia to start a new life in post-war England. What happens to these young women--seduction and abandonment, marriage and widowhood, love and betrayal--becomes as moving and wonderful and yet as predestined as the transits of the planets themselves. Gorgeously written and intricately constructed, Hazzard's novel is a story of place: Sydney, London, New York, Stockholm; of time: from the fifties to the eighties; and above all, of women and men in their passage through the displacements and absurdities of modern life.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:05:42 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

This book tells the story of two orphan sisters, Caroline and Grace Bell, as they leave Australia to start a new life in post-war England. What happens to these young women--seduction and abandonment, marriage and widowhood, love and betrayal--becomes as moving and wonderful and yet as predestined as the transits of the planets themselves. Gorgeously written and intricately constructed, Hazzard's novel is a story of place: Sydney, London, New York, Stockholm; of time: from the fifties to the eighties; and above all, of women and men in their passage through the displacements and absurdities of modern life.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

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