I first learned of Shirley Hazzard through this wonderfully enticing review by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers Litblog. She has been on my radar ever since and I started reading The Transit of Venus during Rachel and Caroline’s Virago Reading Week, quickly realising I wasn’t going to finish it in a few days. If there is ever a book not to be skim read, this is it.
Having finished it now, I have been milling around in my head how to write about it in a way that does it justice. There is something deep, beautiful and difficult in the writing with plenty of words I had never heard of. Many of the sentences are a work of art in themselves, to be read and reread, I imagine more meaning is to be found with each reading. I’m not sure if it is because of or inspite of this that it is such an incredible read. I’m sure there will be people who don’t like this style, I know after the first 40 or so pages i was tempted to put it aside for another time. Eventually I fell into the story and stopped struggling with the subtleties.
The Transit of Venus is a homage to love and living life in an authentic, uncompromising way through the good times and through sadness and tragedy. It is no doubt so much more than that as well but that was what I loved about it. There was a discussion during Virago Reading week about favourite heroines and to me Caro Bell is a wonderful heroine. One of two orphaned Australian sisters who travel to England post WWII looking for a better life, she is handsome rather than beautiful, adventurous, educated and independant at a time when it was more the norm to be sweet and accommodating like her sister Grace. Full of substance with a cool exterior yet unwavering in love and truth. Fabulous!
And the hero of this story is Ted Tice, a scientist in love with Caro from the moment he sets eyes on her. A love that spans decades and alters the course of his life. The quiet, moral backbone of the story.
There are several of what I suppose you could call peripheral characters who are interesting in their own right. But it is the story and stories of Caro Bell and Ted Tice that are so captivating.
Shirley Hazzard includes references to topical political events of the 1940’s and decades that follow. She assimilates these in a way that assumes the reader is familiar with these events. Disasters, death and the threat of death are a constant, lurking throughout.
Out of interest, the term transit of venus refers to an event similar to a solar eclipse. It is the study of this that brings Ted Tice to the same house as Caro Bell at the beginning of the story and the beginning of what is to become an acclaimed career for him.
Isn’t the VMC cover just beautiful? It is not the one I read but I am going to be on the lookout for it now. I see it was originally called A Transit of Venus – I wonder why it was changed in later additons. This is one of many questions I have, including people’s thoughts on the ending which I’m not 100% clear on. Is it what is implied? Could it really be?
You know how sometimes after reading a book you develop a need to lay your hands on everything an author has written? That’s how I feel after reading this – a wonderful discovery.
So what next after a book like this? Well, I am part way through Hand Me Down World by Lloyd Jones and also The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton, neither are doing the trick just yet. The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell looks more promising. After two chapers I’m going to like it I think.
1980, 337 pages