Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus is one of those books which asks to be enjoyed as carefully and as slowly as possible. There is no way I could have rushed through this book, instead I took it in small sections, appreciating the strange quality of Hazzard’s writing style and the unconventional way she told her story.
In the simplest terms, this is a novel about all the different ways we fall in love over a lifetime. Ted Tice adopts his love of Caro as a solid fact, something to be borne along with the other realities of his day to day existence. Caro’s loves are more varied, less idealistic but much more sensual. Grace, Caro’s sister, starts out in one seemingly safe direction and then is jolted with an unexpected situation much later in her life.
But the book also has a finger on the zeitgeist of post WWII, on the varying experiences of class, on motherhood, on power relationships between individuals, on the omnipotence of despair, and the significance of hope. These other elements stack up behind the novel’s firmer focus on those love narratives, giving them a deeper texture and structure.
Hazzard’s unique narrative style took me some time to get used to but overall I loved it (and not only because I kept experiencing echoes of Nadine Gordimer). She has a way of describing something in terms I’d never imagined before, or giving a feeling to a scene that would take me by surprise. In that sense, her characters were intriguing. They experienced their lives in ways which asked me to pause and consider whether I understood, or whether I’d ever felt something similar.
There were a few moments I wondered if Hazzard hadn’t gone a bit too far, making things more weighty or obscure than she needed. The book seems to hinge on the idea of the great mysteries of our hearts, the peculiar ways we engage with those around us, and every once in a while I felt she was letting that sentiment get carried too far away. But for the most part, this tone made the book both beautiful and complex.
I have some more to write about The Transit of Venus, and will put my thoughts together for a second post later this week. I’m thrilled to have discovered Hazzard, a writer previously unknown to me but who has three other novels waiting for me to enjoy. I have The Great Fire already and will pick it up in a few months to delve into Hazzard’s curious and lovely writing once again.