Thoughts: The Transit of Venus, by Shirley Hazzard

Uh looks like I entirely forgot to post this after I wrote it? Here you go!

Last book I started before giving birth, first book I finished afterwards. I read a couple of chapters to baby, in the hope that he will learn from the examples of the characters and make better choices with his own life.

A lot of my feelings on this book are probably unfairly influenced by the medium in which I read it – I couldn’t find it on Kindle but did find it on Hugendubel’s site as an ebook, so initially yay! But it was only available on Adobe Digital Editions, which is pretty terrible and user-unfriendly to set up, and is apparently worse on mobile (shoutout to my favourite review on the Google Play Store: “I’d rather read my book engraved in an obelisk if it meant I didn’t have to use this app.”) You have to strip the DRM to get it to work on other ereaders, which, boo. I never got around to it because I’m a bit technophobic, but I will definitely consider it for any other books I’m forced to use ADE for.

I don’t read much on laptop screens and being tied to it definitely impacted the reading experience, partly because of Hazzard’s own writing style, which demands attention and time. The chapters I read aloud were glorious. It’s a book designed for the voice.

It’s sort of a book where nothing much happens, a lot of short scenes and almost vignettes as the characters who are all gathered together in the beginning separate and cross paths over the years. The transit of Venus of the title refers to a story of an astronomer who wanted to catch the rare transit of Venus, only to miss it by chance and misadventure, and it’s not hard to make the connection between that and the ill-timed couplings and love connections between the characters, especially Ted Tice and Caro, though echoed by other characters too, sometimes surprisingly.

The atmosphere of each scene is meticulously sketched out, physical and psychological, and postwar London in all its uncertainties and aftermath-daze comes alive. The beginnings of feminism, hints of social mobility, a ghost of homosexuality lurking in the spaces between. The characters as well are dealt with meticulously, their inner lives vivid and informed by their different pasts, revealing aspects and shadows and secrets right up until the end. There were long

And the ending. My goodness. Hazzard sows the seeds for it with an extremely light touch right at the beginning and weaves in another hint or two later, and as soon as you see it coming she drops the curtain. I made an involuntary strangled “nooo” when I turned the page and saw only the publisher’s note.

Altogether a strange reading experience, dreamy and surreal, not entirely Hazzard’s fault, but if you’re in the mood for something slow and deep and quiet whose ending will floor you, definitely give it a chance.

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