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The Transit of Venus

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  2,050 ratings  ·  364 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published October 5th 1995 by Virago (first published 1980)
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Lolly I too saw this in the paper and put the book title on my list of "to read." Your quote above was all I went on. I got the book from the library a few…moreI too saw this in the paper and put the book title on my list of "to read." Your quote above was all I went on. I got the book from the library a few weeks ago. I found it slow going, not because it was dull, but because it seemed so much was packed into each sentence/paragraph. I kept at it and it began to flow faster. I found the book astonishing. In fact, after I finished it and closed the back cover, I set it down on the coffee table and walked into the kitchen for a glass of water. I came back to the living room, sat down, and started it anew. Just simply exquisite in tone, observation, and at times beauty.

It reminded me of Kate Atkinson's A God in Ruins and Life After Life. If you liked those two, you might like Transit of Venus.(less)

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Jan 08, 2013 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
Violet wells
Aug 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: london, faves
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
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
May 13, 2015 rated it liked it
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
Sep 17, 2010 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
Jacob Russell
Sep 19, 2008 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
Feb 13, 2008 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
Apr 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: australia, my-fiction
My second Shirley Harzzard novel in a short space of time. The previous, People in Glass Houses, I thoroughly enjoyed so was looking forward to reading The Transit Of Venus. To say I have been surprised by this book would be an understatement. Both books are chalk and cheese in delivery and concept.

Be that as it may The Transit Of Venus is one of the most compelling novels I have read for reasons I am not going to be able to articulate particularly well. The plot itself seems fairly shallow but
Apr 12, 2011 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
Jan 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read this book – and you should read this book – carefully. You should read it carefully because it is packed with passages that you will want to read more than once simply to savor their beauty ( “...the sky, on a shadeless day, suddenly lowered itself like an awning.”) and passages that capture a character in a phrase (“Dora sat on a corner of the spread rug, longing to be assigned some task so she could resent it.”). There are also passages you will read more than once to be sure you ...more
Jan 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: love
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
Michael Livingston
Nov 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An incredible book - Charlotte Wood's discussion says it all more eloquently than I ever could:
Anne Sanow
Apr 28, 2008 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
Mar 14, 2012 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
Nov 23, 2015 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
Elizabeth Kennedy
May 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Add this to this list of amazing books I've read in the past year or so (along with Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin and The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro). Most of my 5 stars books earn that rating mostly due to the fact that I loved reading them, and I found them to be excellent. A few meet that criteria, but are something more as well. They are amazing in the sense that I haven't read anything quite like them before. The Transit of Venus fits this last category (as do Winter's Tale and The ...more
Rick Patterson
May 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the saddest books I've ever read. It takes a real talent to produce such a consistently depressing malaise in almost every chapter, nearly every scene. Hazzard gives us a cast of characters who are never, ever going to be happy; they seem destined by a perverse conspiracy to choose poorly, attach themselves to the wrong, doomed person, and discover too late that they could have and should have. It's Hazzard who is the Conspirator, of course, and I wondered occasionally why she was ...more
Caroline Gordon
Sep 20, 2011 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
Jul 19, 2014 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.
Nov 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Apr 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
My favorite book ever. My personal gold standard for fiction. Each chapter a gem(may have been a New Yorker short story). Each sentence a marvel.
Jul 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"Grace had discovered that men prefer not to go through with things. When the opposite occurred, it made history: Something you'll remember always.

She said, 'Women have to go through with things. Birth, for instance, or hopeless love. Men can evade forever.'

There were exceptions--Ted Tice, or her own son. It would be dreadful if Rupert were to lay down his life, as Ted had done. Dreadful, and not unlikely.

Light came through long windows, there was scent from stock in a vase. Two women were
Apr 12, 2008 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
Mar 14, 2016 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
Lauren Albert
Feb 15, 2010 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
Joan Winnek
Sep 27, 2010 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 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
Jul 31, 2008 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
Apr 15, 2012 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.
Feb 16, 2011 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
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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.

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
“When you realize someone is trying to hurt you, it hurts less."
"Unless you love them.”
“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.” 7 likes
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