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The Transit of Venus

3.83  ·  Rating Details ·  1,535 Ratings  ·  272 Reviews
Adventurous Caro 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, she is to find that love brings sorrow as well as passion whilst her sister, the milder Grace, seeks fulfillment in marriage.
Paperback, 352 pages
Published October 1st 2006 by Virago (first published 1980)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Jan 20, 2016 Elaine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
This is one of the most perfectly constructed novels that I've ever read. Twice in the opening pages, there are simple sentences that foreshadow all that comes after. All is not revealed until much later, and until that time, you will worry those apparent loose ends as you would an irritating pebble in your shoe, but never fear, Hazzard knows precisely what she's about. And the end, ah, the end. Against all the evidence, even this (view spoiler) ...more
I've dithered for weeks over my rating for this one and finally settled on the five star 'it was amazing' category because yes, it was amazing. But I'm not sure if I actually liked it. It has to be said that I read it under pressure, which is criminal for a Shirley Hazzard. Fine for a plot-led thriller where the only point of interest is how it ends, but a novel by Ms Hazzard should be enjoyed at leisure. You should luxuriate in that exquisitely fine language, linger over the cadence of the ...more
Jul 09, 2015 Mary rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, australia, 2015
I don’t even know how I felt about this book. Even as I type this I have no idea how I’m going to rate it. At times I thought the writing was brilliant and amazing, and other times I thought it was pretentious and overwrought. No doubt about it, Hazzard’s writing is downright beautiful. She’s a writer’s writer; cerebral, structured, and deliberate. I got the sense the entire time that she was standing over her perfect sentences and elaborate prose with a self-satisfied smirk. Yes, ok, you can ...more
Feb 17, 2016 Teresa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4 and 1/2 stars, though it is amazing.

An ambitious novel, well-conceived and well-executed. I loved the well-placed foreshadowing (especially one in the beginning that haunts the rest of the book) and the jolts that occur with the fruition of what you might've thought at first were mere throwaway lines.

There were times I felt disengaged, perhaps from the cleverness that at times took me out of the story -- my fault, more than a fault of the work, I'm sure.

If I ever reread this, I think I'd be e
Jacob Russell
Sep 19, 2008 Jacob Russell rated it it was amazing
Some years ago I read a New Yorker story by Hazzard, "In These Islands." I read it a second time, then and there. Turned back to the first page and read it again. Then a third time.

There are expansive writers--like the late DFW, Whitman, Henry Miller--and there those who fuse language in a crucible: Dickinson, Laura Riding, George Oppen: poets more often than novelists... though McCarthy has gone from one to the other, from the expansive Sutree to the compression of The Road.

No one can capture
Apr 12, 2011 Steve rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I was torn as to how to rate Shirley Hazzard's Transit of Venus. Hazzard is an enormously gifted writer. But the novel itself had me asking the question, When does a great writer become a great artist? It's a fine distinction that one doesn't come across often, since such things unfold on their own. The discerning reader simply knows when they've read a great piece of literature. But Hazzard's own ambition here had me asking that very question. In other words, one gets the sense that Hazzard, in ...more
Mar 07, 2008 Bronson rated it it was amazing
I was caught by surprise by this book. I heard about it from an interview with Ann Patchet I'd read online. I think it is one of the finest written novels I have ever read. The night I finished the book, I opened it back up and started reading it again. The second time through I was as engrossed - actually more than the first. It was tough to get started, she doesn't build the characters traditionally. You find out odd things about them that don't seem important until much later in the book. I ...more
Nov 23, 2015 Ben rated it it was amazing
The subject here is love. The contrast of its experience by two sisters. First task is to acclimatise one to the elegiac nature of the prose which seems to be affectionately recalling past eras when great writing was often lyrical and atmospheric, the opposite of forensic. However soon, Hazzard’s sentences begin to beguile. They’re like things seen by the light of candles, radiant with strange outlying shadows. Soon one also begins to admire the architecture of the novel, how early motifs ...more
Anne Sanow
Apr 29, 2008 Anne Sanow rated it it was amazing
Brilliant, gorgeous, searing--one of my new (and rare) gold standards.

As others have noted, this is worth sticking with (I actually tried the first few chapters last year and wasn't caught by them, but had no trouble this time). And there comes a point in the latter third that's a bit of a slog. The reward of Hazzard's prose throughout, though, is worth it; her descriptions and observations are amazing, so smart and perfectly, often devastatingly, wrought. It's no mean feat to be able to pull re
Jan 05, 2016 Georgina rated it it was amazing
Shirley Hazzard has a very distinctive and somewhat difficult prose style. Often you have to read her sentences twice to get the full meaning and richness. But once you become accustomed to her quirky sentence structures she is an absolute joy to read. I can’t recall the last novel I read with so many brilliant insights into love and female feeling.

It’s essentially the story of two sisters and their amorous lives. Caro is the more adventurous and unconventional sister. And ostensibly it’s she wh
Apr 14, 2012 Alison rated it did not like it
I could appreciate the intelligent writing in this novel - certainly Ms. Hazzard is quite cerebral. And there were some great points of memorable language and insight. But for me, this is not the brilliant novel that others seem to think it is. One of my problems was the characters: either they were a little obtuse as to make me wonder at their actions based on the way the author had drawn them, or they were so obvious they got boring - the self-satisfied, philandering husband, the ...more
May 07, 2008 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2008
Final review (May 7th, 2008)

Well, by the end, Hazzard won me over, as I got accustomed to her style. This story of the two orphan Bell sisters, Caroline and Grace (and their self-martyring older half-sister, Dora), spanning three decades and as many continents, starts out slowly but ultimately rewards the reader's patience. Once you persevere beyond the first 50 pages or so, the story is never less than absorbing, and builds to a stunning climax.

Hazzard is not your typical narrator, and makes s
Joan Winnek
Feb 21, 2011 Joan Winnek rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Joan by: ·Karen·
The writing in this book amazes me. I am reading slowly and savoring it.

Now I've read three chapters of Part II The Contacts. Some changes of scene, and the plots develop slowly.

Tonight I finished the book, was gripped by the last Part. Karen, you were right. It all comes together at the end. I found out how much I care about all these disparate persons (except Dora).

Can anyone tell me, what other Shirley Hazzard books should I read?
Karen Leopoldina
Feb 09, 2012 Karen Leopoldina rated it really liked it
Hard to believe this was published in 1980. Sentence structure and language both formal and highly idiosyncratic which reminds me more of Patrick White and D H Lawrence and other modernist writers than something written in the late C20th. The richness of the language both beguiling yet forbidding, at times the sentences – whilst beautifully puzzling – also were so obtuse than i was unsure what was actually being written about. Does this matter? Perhaps not at times, perhaps it's good to be ...more
Harry Rutherford
Aug 04, 2008 Harry Rutherford rated it liked it
Like Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, I bought this on the basis of a Bryan Appleyard article where he mentioned Hazzard as one of his contenders for greatest living novelist; in fact, he entertained the possibility that The Transit of Venus was 'the most perfect novel written in the past 100 years'.

I was less taken by this one than the Robinson. Don't get me wrong, it's a seriously good novel: lots of good characters, a great sense of time and place, a rich and engaging plot. And occasionally
Mar 15, 2011 L rated it really liked it
This is undoubtedly difficult to read, especially the first third of the novel. I've never consulted Merriam-Webster so often. However, the payoff is worth it; this is the literary equivalent of "The Sixth Sense." After I'd finished, I had to investigate passages I'd previously read, searching for the clauses or seemingly-irrelevant asides the author employs. The last scene, in particular, was foreshadowed in what I consider to be a manner worthy of Nabokov. If you don't pay attention, you will ...more
Apr 15, 2012 Shaunnatonelli rated it it was ok
Shelves: mature
There seem to be two camps about this book. People either love it or hate it. I thought the author's use of language was generally 'too much.' She tones it down after the first 50 pages (perhaps the effort of keeping up that flowery pace was too much for her too), so if you are one of those people who hate it, you might give it at least the first 60 pages to see how it goes...

I didn't care for the story and I felt that she handed me a lot of detail that I didn't need to accomplish the story. Th
Mar 18, 2016 Rachel rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The writing is technically brilliant but the author keeps the reader completely away from emotional connection of any kind to the characters. There's this diamond like sheen of the 50's to the 80's, where we are supposed to root for the two sisters to succeed in a man's world and to allow them to disengage from sex and marriage as being the only thing in life to live for, and as lofty as those goals are in the world of a novel I would like to care about the characters as people rather than ...more
Aug 08, 2014 Maria rated it it was ok
This is too bleeping much! Too confusing, the women are just too too and I don't know what the point of it is. I supposed I would reread it if I were stuck somewhere without not so much as a cereal box to read. I don't subscribe to being a martyr to a book. I cannot imagine having an every day sort of conversation with the author. Surely she must not speak as she writes. I recommend skipping it and finding something truly enjoyable to read and report.
I wanted to like this more than I did. Hazzard's style made for a much more opaque reading experience than in The Bay of Noon, which I had loved. I felt as though I were watching the characters through a screen. There were many lovely passages, but little that drew me in in the manner I was expecting.
Jun 02, 2008 Maya rated it it was ok
I'm sure I must be missing something--something in my taste is lacking--but I found this to be overwritten and annoying. I couldn't get close to the characters except in brief, rare moments.
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
First published in 1980, this is how it is described on the Virago website:

"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 apparently happy marriage. But as the decades pass and the characters weave in and out of each other's lives, love, death and t
Judith Hannan
Nov 19, 2012 Judith Hannan rated it it was amazing
So many book reviews begin with a description of what the book they are critiquing is about. I'm not sure how to do this with The Transit of Venus. There is the story, which is complicated and layered and moves through a large period of time; and there are the messages about love, family, obligation, war/peace, etc. that are equally sweeping in scope. The reader would be forgiven for thinking that he or she was entering a vast and lofty story. Instead, The Transit of Venus maintains a tone of ...more
Karen Brooks
Mar 23, 2011 Karen Brooks rated it it was amazing
This is one of the most exquisitely rendered novels, where not a word is out of place; where you find yourself savouring sentences, clauses and repeating them over and over admiring the craftsmanship and originality. It's also a tale that lingers long after you've finished it.

The Transit of Venus tells the story of Grace and Caroline (Caro) Bell, two Australian sisters and the way war, expatriation, words and love shapes their lives. Hovering over their existences, in the real and metaphorical
Sep 20, 2010 Kirsten rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Did you ever see Indochine?
I resisted this book at first. I wondered what Caro Bell (the character with the most page time) had to offer besides being an incongruous challenge for men to fall in love with; falling in love with her seemed to say something about their characters, but did little to illuminate hers. I also bristled at some of the prose. As with many elliptical and lyrical prose writers, Hazzard's overreaching imagery coexisted--sometimes awkwardly-- with searingly beautiful turns of phrase.

I was miffed. I als
Victoria Young
Jan 05, 2015 Victoria Young rated it really liked it
Shirley Hazzard seems to have slipped under the cultural radar here in Australia; I had never heard of her or any of her works until I heard The Transit of Venus discussed on the ABC's Book Club. I had to look around a bit to find a bookstore that actually stocked it. Which is a great pity, because she's a brilliant writer with acute insight into human nature.

The Transit of Venus charts the lives of sisters Caroline and Grace Bell through love and loss and growing up and growing old. For both wo
Jul 19, 2014 Jimmy rated it liked it
A story that goes on and on and on, encompassing more and more characters. Like an endlessness of epilogues, I asked myself "what? they're still here?" but they are and they are having more and more affairs.

To be fair, it all comes together, but by that point I didn't care much. It is well written, in a clipped and distant style. But though that is refreshing in the beginning, it soon lost me when I couldn't figure out why I was still reading this book.

The language is precise and demanding, some
Jun 07, 2012 Melissa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literaryfiction, own
I have been slogging through this book for a month now and finally decided--it's not me. Years ago I read A Reader's Manifesto: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in American Literary Prose. He argues that difficult prose isn't always good prose and championed the idea of clear writing and storytelling. I thought of this book often while reading Hazzard's writing. Her style seemed to change constantly and without any seeming reason. I tried to puzzle through if she was pairing style to cha ...more
Lauren Albert
Feb 22, 2010 Lauren Albert rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I'm torn about this. The writing is stunning. Her characterizations are sometimes brilliant (I loved her portrayal of Dora, the half-sister and the way she manages to give you a vivid idea of Portia's character without ever really discussing her much).

But I found the writing occasionally self-indulgent in its "writerly-ness." Obviously there is a very broad spectrum between "readerly" and "writerly" fiction. And, while I tend to lean towards the latter, it can be easy for a great writer to forg
Caroline Gordon
Sep 20, 2011 Caroline Gordon rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction, australia
Following a glowing endorsement by Jennifer Burne on Second Tuesday Bookclub this was added to my collection. I have to just ask Jennifer why...I just cannot connect with this book, with the characters, with the obscure writing style. I've decided life is too short to spend finishing books I'm not enjoying so this one is going to stay 3/4 read. There were a few passages I really enjoyed but it comes down to the characters, to me they were lifeless and dead, just emotional not present. The ...more
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What do you think is the significance of the title? 1 27 Sep 29, 2011 01:31PM  
  • George Mills
  • Maurice Guest
  • The Echoing Grove
  • Grand Days
  • Women in Their Beds: New and Selected Stories
  • The Lucky Country
  • Love For Lydia
  • The Year of the French
  • October Light
  • The Parasites
  • The Broken Shore
  • The Blue Flower
  • Wanting
  • The Silent Duchess
  • Look at Me
  • The Children's Bach
  • Heat and Light
  • The Tree Of Man
Author of fiction and non-fiction. Born in Australia, Shirley Hazzard now holds citizenship in Great Britain and the United States.

As a child she travelled the world due to her parents’ diplomatic postings and at 16, worked for the British Intelligence in Hong Kong, monitoring civil war in China. After this she lived in New Zealand, Europe, USA and Italy. In the USA she worked for the United Natio
More about Shirley Hazzard...

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“When you realize someone is trying to hurt you, it hurts less."
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“I never had, or wished for, power over you. That isn't true, of course. I wanted the greatest power of all. but not advantage, or authority.” 6 likes
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