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The Transit of Venus

3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  1,185 ratings  ·  212 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

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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 sent...more
Jacob Russell
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...more
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
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 t...more
4 and 1/2 stars, though it is amazing.

An ambitious novel, well-conceived and well-executed. I loved the well-placed foreshadowing (esp 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, most likely.

If I ever reread this, I think I'd be even...more
Anne Sanow
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...more
Joan Winnek
Feb 21, 2011 Joan Winnek rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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?
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
Karen Leopoldina
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 confu...more
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.
Ra Ra
Shirley Hazard is without question a first rate wordsmith; she can write beautiful sentences and string them together into an exhilarating music. She does it consistently. But she seems incapable of writing a truly first rate novel. The Great Fire nearly made it but failed ultimately for me because of Hazard’s obfuscating and belittling worship of romantic love. The central relationship in that novel was a fairy story. Hazard is at her best when her characters are figuratively standing beneath a...more
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...more
Harry Rutherford
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...more
Karen Brooks
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...more
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...more
Judith Hannan
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 d...more
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
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...more
Sep 20, 2010 Kirsten rated it 4 of 5 stars
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...more
Lauren Albert
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...more
I gave this book 70 pages and then set it aside. I never do this! Typically, I will stubbornly slog my way through most anything. But after 70 pages I didn't know what was going on, didn't know who the people were, and didn't know what I should think about them. Also, Shirley, for the love of all things holy, copious amounts of sentence fragments are frustrating to read; direct objects are always a good thing; and no one (NO ONE!) engages in dialogue like that--if we did, none of us would know...more
My god.

I recall one vivid evening the summer before last when, mid-sentence, I gasped aloud and clutched The Great Fire to my chest as if to keep what I had just read, and felt, to myself.

I finished The Transit of Venus in a similar welter of joy and pain. This book carried me. I think it is beautiful beyond my ability to tell you. I mean, I'm crying, right now, and I'm shortly to shut this laptop, cross the room, and bury my face in my husband's neck.
Feb 03, 2014 Mary rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No ONe
Shirley Hazzard hasn't written many books over the course of her long career, but let's just agree that she's gone for quality over quantity. Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, this novel traces the contrasting choices, loves, and losses of two orphaned sisters, Caro and Grace, who leave Australia for postwar England, and follows them across continents and decades. But this one's not about the plot, it's about the writing. It's no wonder that Anita Shreve said of this book that Ha...more
Beatrice Gormley
The best thing about this book is Hazzard's language, a delight to read. Not in the sense of the overworked, precious sentences of writing workshops--Hazzard is a seemingly effortless writer, turning out witty, richly allusive prose as deftly as river otters rollick in a pool. And The Transit of Venus is an engrossing story about two orphan sisters from Australia who arrive in post-World War II England to seek their fortune. They both strive for happiness within the limited options open to women...more
Aug 22, 2012 Alice rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2012
Amazing that as I was reading this book, I remembered nothing about it. I realize I didn't even understand the title when I first encountered it. The book fits the title perfectly: how love, passion touches our lives fleetingly or forever. Shirley Hazard writes wonderfully. There's a Jamesian quality to her prose which is deeply satisfying. Four stars because I struggle with the end prefigured from the very beginning.
Malini Sridharan
My rating is not really fair. Though I did not enjoy this book at all, I recognize that it is well done. The story is for 'grown-ups'-- by which is meant, people who are more mature than me. Characters have sex, or don't, and either way it is all very meaningful.
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.
About half way through you feel as if the story begins to lag -- but press on! I guarantee you will go back and re-read once you finish the book in its entirety. Be watchful of nuances through out.
Sherrill Watson
"Mustard Mr. Tice?" and A PAGE LATER, (Edmund) "Ted Tice took mustard."

A LONG wandering tale about the lives of two Australian girls. Caroline Ball (Caro) & Grace Bell, Charmain Thrale & Safton and their son Christian Thrale who quickly pairs off with Grace. The mother of the girls, Dore "stood up to the tax man, took no notice from the minster. . taking umbrage, taking out, breaking down . . . " and she was only 21 then! She reappears throughout the book as this disaster-followed person...more
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What do you think is the significance of the title? 1 18 Sep 29, 2011 01:31PM  
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Author of fiction and non-fiction. Born in Australia, Shirley Hazzard now holds citizenship in Great Britain and the United States.

Hazzard was born in Sydney, Australia. In 1947 she traveled through Southeast Asia with her parents.
Her diplomat father took her to Hong Kong, and then to New Zealand where her father was Australian Trade Commissioner. She travelled to Italy in 1956, and worked for a y...more
More about Shirley Hazzard...
The Great Fire The Bay of Noon Greene on Capri The Evening of the Holiday People in Glass Houses

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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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