The Transit of Venus

The Transit of Venus



The Pequod Review:

Shirley Hazzard's third novel, The Transit of Venus, is the warm and intimate story of two orphaned sisters. The book starts slow, and much of the plot is unremarkable, but Hazzard often has sharp insights:

The woman looked over at the freckled landowner at the cane table, to observe his virtue. "He's on the right side."

"Better than that he has no side. Even a right side imposes wrongful silences, required untruths. As the timid say, there is strength, or safety, in numbers; but solidarity is an extension of power, that is, the beginning of the lie. The only proper solidarity is with the truth, if one can discover it... In any group there are masters and followers. Even the right side rather dislikes a man who stands alone."

And her character descriptions are masterpieces of economy and style:

Tertia Drage plucked a leaf from her dress and flung it emphatically in the empty grate. It was something they were to notice again in Tertia -- that she handled objects or pushed doors with punitive abruptness, seeing no reason to indulge an uncompliant world. The occasional human anger felt against inanimate things that tumble or resist was in her case perpetual.


Josie had the eyes noticeable in troubled young women, eyes that are sidelong even when direct. She had the inanition that announces self-engrossment. She was already setting up an apparatus of blame, in apprehension of failure.

The Transit of Venus takes awhile to reveal its beauty, but this is observational prose of very high quality. Winner of the 1980 National Book Critics Circle Award.