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The Transit of Venus Paperback – September 1, 1990

3.7 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

National Book Critics Circle Award-winner Hazzard here tells of two sisters, Grace and Caroline Bell. Born in Australia and orphaned at an early age, the two make their way to England. There Grace opts for marriage and its securities; Caroline reaches for more and loves not always wisely but well. "A strong, deep, poetic, vibrant novel," lauded PW.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

'Shirley Hazzard. For me the greatest living writer on goodness and love ... THE TRANSIT OF VENUS, was described to me by a man who knows as "the greatest novel written in the past 100 years". Having read it, I can see his point. Shirley Hazzard, the quiet, playful, lovestruck artist of love, goodness and death in the 20th century. Bryan Appleyard A wonderfully mysterious book ... Both plot and characters are many layered. Unforgettably rich ANNE TYLER A dose of the sublime .. I read it with an almost indescribable pleasure. There were sentences that brought tears of gratification to my eyes NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW An almost perfect novel ... Miss Hazard writes as well as Stendhal NEW YORK TIMES --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (September 1, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140107479
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140107470
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.7 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,583 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Larry Hand on June 21, 2004
Format: Paperback
So why on earth would anyone want to read The Transit of Venus? Some say the writing is pretentious: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. That word came to mind last year while I was reading Shirley Hazzard's 2003 National Book Award winner, The Great Fire. Yet I couldn't stop reading. Since I wound up loving that book, I decided to try this one, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award more than two decades ago (1980). Midway through my reading transit, on June 8, 2004, a Transit of Venus occurred, the tiny planet moving like a dot across our gigantic sun. (In 1769, James Cook set sail in the H.M.S. Endeavor to study a Transit of Venus and found Australia, hence the tie-in with this novel, which is primarily an Australian woman's transit through love and life.)
Reading Shirley Hazzard is like climbing a mountain, agonizing over the rocks and rarified air during the long, arduous uphill climb. Struggle is not the same as suffer. Most modern books are downhill sloped, where the reader floats or speeds effortlessly toward a simplistic conclusion. A Hazzard novel is more vertically inclined, where one needs to stop on occasion to catch a breath, and then, when the climax comes, you are on a mountaintop, not the valley floor. It is not a transit intended for aliterates, much less illiterates. Hazzard might not be the author for you if you don't know, and don't care about, the meaning of words like "impercipience" and "abnegation." Also, if you're less than thrilled with such lines as "Magnanimity shaped a sad and vast perspective," and "My task, as I see it, is to adumbrate the sources of his entelechy," then you might want to move along to another bookshelf.
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Format: Paperback
The Transit of Venus is the only novel I return to again and again through the years. When Shirley Hazzard writes the line, "Although the dissolution of love creates no heroes, the process itself requires heroism," it speaks not to the mind trying to follow a plot line, but to the depths of the heart and soul. Early on in the book there is a scene, that serves no essential purpose for advancing the plot. The two would-be lovers are on a bus. The bus doesn't lurch and they are not thrown together in an embrace. Not moved by fate, their orbits take them in different directions. It's a very subtle interaction, one that will surely be lost on the Harlequin crowd. This novel took seven years to write. It is one of the finest, most delicately constructed works of art, you will ever read.
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Format: Paperback
This is a beautifully written novel - when I finished reading it, I had to start over again. The first time I rushed through it, intrigued by the plot. The second time to relish the language.
It is a series of pleasures, combining an acuity of observation of human behaviour delivered with surprising, sometimes startling, similes and metaphors. While the content is not light-hearted, there is a warmth, humour and intelligence which comes through, so that the overall effect is positive.
I haven't enjoyed a read like that in a very long time.
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Format: Paperback
At first, your club's poor opinion of TRANSIT shocked me. Then I recalled that I'd recommended it to a friend who also ran a book club in NYC; her friends were not quite as dismissive as yours about the book, but they too found it difficult to understand. Without meaning in any way to deride your taste or that of your circle, I can only speculate that TRANSIT disappoints because modern eyes are less than eager to embrace its very different style. You call it 'affected'; yet I assure you that I can usually spot affectation before the cover opens, and Hazzard is in no way guilty of such. There is to me a beautiful and rare RHYTHM in her writing. It is musical and poetic in the best senses of those words, and readers largely accustomed to the fourth-grade syntax and tone of most modern popular novels will, I suppose, feel lost. As for its being 'unintelligible': my turn to be lost. The lives of two sisters are followed, and that's all. They're followed with exquisite attention and fatalistic power, but followed plainly.
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Format: Paperback
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 "The Transit of Venus," set out to write a great novel. There are certainly numerous stretches of great writing - but as a novel, I felt its Jamesian excesses turned the reading into something of an ordeal by book's end. In fairness, I think I prefer Hazzard to James in that she writes of Love in a more believable way - and I'm talking of Love as in Shakespeare or Donne. (And stuff actually happens!) People certainly don't talk like Hazzard has them talk - but any lover of language has to wish that they did. Hazzard writes prose that is better than most contemporary poetry. And boy, can she frame a scene, like placing actors on a stage - and with good lines! But such staginess is risky, and in long novel it can wear. Some of Hazzard's side stories, such as Christian's affair, or his wife Grace's near-affair, could have been trimmed. Also, the "political" insertions sounded just like that - insertions, or recollections of old anti-American table talk with Hazzard's good friend Graham Greene. Then there's the sense of time - it comes and goes. Yes, I get a sense of the fifties, but not so much the sixties or later. Such historical convulsions should of made more of a reading impression. In all it makes for an uneven reading effort - which is odd, given the precision of Hazzard's writing and plotting. But the good news is that Hazzard has written a great novel - it's called "The Great Fire."
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