The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard

Like Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, I bought this on the basis of a Bryan Appleyard article where he mentioned Hazzard as one of his contenders for greatest living novelist; in fact, he entertained the possibility that The Transit of Venus was ‘the most perfect novel written in the past 100 years’.

I was less taken by this one than the Robinson. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good novel: lots of strong characters, a sense of time and place, a rich and engaging plot. And occasionally it’s very funny; there’s a vein of acid social satire running through it which just helps give it a bit of an edge. There’s an account of the changing reputation of a poet over his career which is absolutely superb, for example.

And yet… it never quite wowed me as much as Housekeeping. That novel, for me, had a touch of magic and uniqueness to it that made it really stand out. ToV by comparison seems ordinary. A very good example of a conventional novel, but conventional nonetheless. It didn’t help that I never quite settled with the prose style. It has a kind of staccato portentousness that, even after a couple of hundred pages, still kept niggling slightly.

If I sound rather negative, it’s only relative to the claim that the book is the most perfect of the past 100 years; it’s a good book, I’m glad I read it, and I’d generally recommend it. But for whatever reason of personal taste or mood, it didn’t blow me away. Shrug.


  1. 14 October 2011 at 12:38 am | Permalink

    You have published a copyrighted image of mine on your website with no authority. Please remove the image of the Venus transit at this link
    and kindy respond that it has been removed.

    Thank you

    Greg Eans

  2. Harry
    14 October 2011 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Done. Sorry about that.

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