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The Transit of Venus [Hardcover]

Shirley Hazzard
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 1980
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 and out of each other's lives, love, death and two slow-burning secrets wait in ambush for them.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'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 the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Response to unhappy book club reader Dec 25 2000
By A Customer
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The Transit of the Tedious Jan. 26 2001
By A Customer
How lucky, there are books for every taste. But some books are so overdone and pretentious, one must assume some of the more glowing reviews are sponsored by the friends of the writer or the publisher. Surely, without the motivation of a book club, most of us would put down this pinkie-in-the-air soap opera after the first chapter. It is not time well spent unless you are in jail and have read everything else six times.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A transit worth taking June 21 2004
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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3.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious and admirable, but not successful 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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4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written but puzzling April 16 2004
Shirley Hazzard's "Transit" is a beautifully written story of the pain of ordinary life. Two orphaned sisters from Australia make their way to London to begin their adult lives, and a chance encounter in a theatre between Grace, the "blond pretty one," and her future husband irrevocably changes the lives of all of them. Grace and Caro have an innate dignity and intelligence that puzzles and attracts in the staid English society of the time, where they refuse to be pigeonholed into the category of the shabbily genteel. Grace's story is of the ordinary life--an unremarkable husband, children, home--yet her safe world is so easily shattered when she meets a young doctor caring for one of her children. Caro's world is one of passion and pain, as she (rather inexplicably) falls in love with the charismatic Paul Ivory, failing to realize how corrupt he really is.
The characters in this novel continue to puzzle me several weeks after I finished the book. Caro's intelligence and poise are at odds with her almost lifelong passion for Paul. This is especially hard to understand when one reaches the end of the novel--when Caro learns several shocking secrets about Paul, she admits she suspected some of them, which makes her love for him even more inexplicable. Hazzard also badly neglects the character of Adam, Caro's eventual husband.
On the other hand Hazzard is right on target with Cora, the half-sister who raises Grace and Caro and never gets over the burden she was required to assume.
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Jane Austin, Not
Jane Austin without character. First the characters are very shallow and uninspired. Second the characters have no character. Read more
Published on May 12 2004 by "mcwelen"
2.0 out of 5 stars The Emperor's New Clothes
Shirley Hazzard obviously has great literary gifts, but I nevertheless regard this novel as a failure. Read more
Published on Feb. 15 2004 by Leslie Ehrlich
3.0 out of 5 stars Dangerous liaisons
Basically I liked TRANSIT OF VENUS. Ms Hazzard is adept at characterization, and there are many gems along the way about human psychology and relationships. Read more
Published on Jan. 22 2004 by John Green
5.0 out of 5 stars A richly constructed book
I just finished the Transit of Venus and enjoyed it so much. As the other reviewers have noted, it does require you to pay close attention. But there is great reward in doing so. Read more
Published on Oct. 26 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Novel - Not for the Pat Booth Crowd
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... Read more
Published on Oct. 28 2002 by Dan Booth Cohen
2.0 out of 5 stars Mislead by Other Reviews
Based on these recommendations, I selected "Transit of Venus" for my book club. Result: Everyone hated it. Read more
Published on Oct. 29 2000 by Ingrid T
5.0 out of 5 stars A moving and compelling novel
It is hard to do justice to this masterful work. I finished it several days ago but the emotional images are still lingering. Read more
Published on July 5 2000 by Eileen Schmitt
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning accomplishment
This almost unbearably exquisite novel features shimmering, lapidary language; minutely observed, palpably real characters; joy and suffering in their purest, most elemental forms;... Read more
Published on April 10 2000
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