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The Transit of Venus
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on May 25, 2013
I share some of the criticisms of "Transit of Venus" voiced by others but I stuck through to the end and felt my patience was rewarded. I was truly surprised by the climax and the closing scene, which led me to reassess the entire book. I still have some reservations but generally admire the compassion and intelligence behind this finely crafted novel by Shirley Hazzard.

I agree with others that the dialogue is cryptic and weighed down by too many obscure literary allusions. Whole conversations are conducted through metaphorical references to poetry or antiquity. It seemed overwritten and pretentious at times. A good editor should have reined that in. My bigger disappointment was with the passivity of the primary character, Caroline. I realize that she's our Venus stand-in, buffeted by love, but she was hard to get to know. Orphaned, adrift and with few friends, she only sparks when a man enters or re-enters her life. In many scenes, she's monosyllabic, uttering "Yes" or "No" as other characters - especially the men - expound at length. To the extent the author meant this as a critique of power relations between the sexes, it makes sense. Caroline's lack of agency reminded me of some of Edith Wharton's women who are trapped or defeated by forces beyond their control. Also like Wharton, Hazzard writes of her characters with detachment, which makes them hard to warm up to.

Among the things I enjoyed about "Transit of Venus" was its careful plotting. It covers three decades in the lives of multiple characters, which includes some lulls in action (like real life), but it heads toward a dramatic conclusion. Ironies abound and there is some sharp humor, including withering depictions of bosses and bureaucrats. In the end what stayed with me was its broad canvas of lives lived, love won and lost, the complicated trajectories of people's journeys. Its examination of relationships, whether exploitive, unrequited, ephemeral or enduring, whether parent-child, sibling or sexual, is rich and thought-provoking. It explores goodness and venality, love and death, lust, abandonment, idealism, deception, regret, infidelity and fate. So despite stylistic flaws, "The Transit of Venus" left me with much to ponder.
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on December 28, 2017
I read the other reviews and was disappointed. This novel is for the mature reader who is beyond the mass market hype.
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on February 21, 2017
Complicated sentence structure and the use of antiquated vocabulary on every other page, necessitates re-reading the same sentence several times, sometimes in vain, in order to parse its meaning. It makes for slow going and distracts from the enjoyment of reading the story. Nevertheless, the writing is evocative and draws us into the time and place of the story.
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on September 19, 2016
A sometimes artfully detailed series of situations that do not add up to a compelling story. Some chapters make excellent short stories but one's attention wanders...obscure transitions utilized by author meld poorly.
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on January 21, 2006
Shirley Hazzard is Australian by birth, but her extensive life experiences make her a wise world citizen. After winning the USA National Book Critics' Award in 1980, this book should get more attention than it does. An amazing love triangle forms the plot, but it's the writing that takes my breath away, as well as the post WWII history on three different continents and the vividly drawn characters. I'll admit I had trouble getting into it at first, but persistence paid off so that by the startling revelations at the end of the book, I was ready to start it again.
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on February 23, 2006
While taking a rather different direction from Jane Austin, the picture of shifting class options, alignments, and calculations reminds one of Pride and Prejudice. Shirley Hazzard's writing is lucid and clear, her comparisons illuminating. Although not as much so as the Great Fire, it is a book of great economy in telling a great story well.
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on June 19, 2017
This came highly recommended and did not disappoint.
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on June 15, 2004
The reasons Shirley Hazzard's best-known novel doesn't succeed are not the same as readers fear when they start it. Her burnished lapidary prose and her characters' extremely aphoristic way of speaking can seem initially offpyutting, but once you realize she knows what she's doing exactly on the level of the sentence you trust her and let her run with it. But Hazzard's sense of control at the larger level of plot is less steady. The novel, which describes a huge span of time (25 years) in the lives of two sisters and the people with whom they gather in an academic's house in England in the 1950s, is an admirable attempt to cover the arc of many lives over a period of years as they occasionally cross paths in ways as transcendantly as the astonromical event mentioned in the title; the big narrative surprises at the end seem to undo much of what you thought about the characters before, but since there are so many characters to keep track of you end up feeling more confused and cheated than entranced. You wind up admiring what Hazzard is trying to do but left feeling she couldn't quite pull it off. Some of the ancillary narratives embedded within the larger narrative are first rate, however, and I have to say I am going to read her other novels regardless of my dissatisfactions with this work.
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on April 11, 2014
Overall, I'm glad I read this book (as everyone says its a classic) but it was a struggle to get through. Her style of writing and prose was a slog and I felt like the slowest reader in the world with the amount of time it took me to finish. I will say that it is beautifully written and really makes you examine life and love and what will really make you happy in a relationship.
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on May 9, 2013
Very boring read 50 pages never got hooked. Did not want to waste my precious time. Would not recommend it.
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