- Hardcover: 337 pages
- Publisher: Viking Adult (March 14, 1980)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0670724262
- ISBN-13: 978-0670724260
- Product Dimensions: 20 x 20 x 20 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 60 customer reviews
Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
#1,152,661 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #61631 in Literary Fiction (Books)
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The Transit of Venus Hardcover – March 14, 1980
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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.
She used the third-person omniscient point-of-view to an alarming extreme. There are few characters whose thoughts we are not privy to. But she pulls back in how closely she elucidates these thoughts. Although this novel is primarily about women and their affairs, there is nothing remotely like a sex scene in here, and emotions are seldom explicitly explored. Instead, she hints at the inner lives--of women, primarily--by means of description and dialogue.
Something else she does extensively is something I can't recall in other novels I've read. She frequently interposes what her characters MIGHT have said (had they been more frank or spontaneous, presumably).
This is not a quick or easy read, but her sentences, not long and syntactically complicated, as you might guess from a writer labeled as "difficult" can be wonderful little gems of insight.
The style is at once brilliant and overstuffed, requiring discipline not to skip sentences because Hazzard has buried amazingly bright nuggets throughout. Her characterization and scene-setting are both first rate, with a faint whiff of social satire that permeates the book, which is at once serious drama and yet contains touches of drawing-room comedy. She understands social transactions and can reduce a person's thoughts/behavior to a bitingly fresh line or two. Dora is a fine example of a character that hovers between caricature and characterization. A great line (of which there are countless): "Deep trouble was having its way with Dora." This is inserted in a thick paragraph that contains other smart lines, but then Hazzard overwrites and dilutes her own humorous, tart analysis.
The book seems to aspire toward being a great epic story, but its successful narrative elements are intimate. This inherent dichotomy leaves me unsure of how to rate the success of the author's endeavor. Did she plan a big book and miss or a small book and over-expand it? I suspect a contemporary editor would have pared this book closer to its fine, honest bones, allowing Hazzard's piercing insights to shine more brightly.