Tuesday, April 2, 2013

"The Transit of Venus," by Shirley Hazzard

I have written here about sometimes going back to books I loved when I read them at a much younger age, and finding I just can’t read them again. Sometimes this is because I realize they aren’t as good as I thought they were, back then. Sometimes it is because the books are just too emotionally exhausting to re-read. In contrast, today I write about the experience of going back to read a book I read years ago, and finding I appreciate it even more than I did at the time. This was the case with Shirley Hazzard’s novel “The Transit of Venus” (Penguin, 1990, originally published 1980), which I recently picked up on a whim and read on a recent conference trip. I had read the book soon after it originally came out in 1980, and I vaguely remember liking it fine, but not as much as I thought I should, given the reviews and praise it garnered back then. Re-reading it now, I was struck by the compelling characters and story, and most of all, by the gorgeous writing. What a tour de force! The novel tells the story of two sisters who emigrate from Australia to England in the 1950s. Their lives become entangled with those of several men who love them; in some cases the love is reciprocated, in some cases not, and in some cases their relationships change over the years. Their lives are touched by war, by financial problems, by prejudice against women, and by the changing times. One sister, Caro, is the true, calm but often suffering, deeply and almost magically interesting center of the novel; she is a truly original character, and one that a reader can’t stop trying to figure out. This is one of those novels that one feels, as one is reading, has a deep connection to life itself, with all of its vicissitudes. And throughout, the reader knows she is in the hands of a literary master. I am so glad I rediscovered this novel, took a chance on it, and was overwhelmed by how good it is.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Site Meter