Review: Shirley Hazzard’s “The Transit of Venus”
I’d been resisting the temptation to read a second Hazzard too soon after the first one – I’ve disabled my sense of great writers before by devouring all of their novels at once and not being able to tell them apart later – but hell, it looked like the most enjoyable thing on the bedside pile. Focussed on the character of Caroline Bell, an Australian who moves to London with her sisters in the 1920s, it traces her life and loves, with a few token affairs of family and lovers also getting a look-in. Hazzard is such a fine writer, so controlled and original, not a cliché in the novel, always arresting images and turns of phrase. I especially like the fact that she doesn’t write down to her readers: she often leaves the plangent gap for meaning or interpretation by the engaged audience. I like the reminder that literature can demand, does not need to cater. It was a good book, but I didn’t enjoy the theme of being lost in the service of love; inanition is in the air at the moment, and I need my books to give me the opposite: dynamism. Still recommended, though, still an impressive writer.
Where it came from: UPB
Time and manner of reading: A few days of bed and sofa reads: her phrasing is unusual enough that it needs to be savoured carefully
Where it went: It’s a secret
Reminds me of/that: —
Who I’d recommend it to: Seekers of fine writing
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper; The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe