This is one of the most exquisitely rendered novels, where not a word is out of place; where you find yourself savouring sentences, clauses and repeating them over and over admiring the craftsmanship and originality. It’s also a tale that lingers long after you’ve finished it.
The Transit of Venus tells the story of Grace and Caroline (Caro) Bell, two Australian sisters and the way war, expatriation, words and love shapes their lives. Hovering over their existences, in the real and metaphorical sense, is the Transit of Venus – the conjunction of planets first witnessed – or missed – by James Cook, but which represents the coming together of two celestial bodies in a harmonious dance. That Cook missed this astronomical moment, and with tragic consequences, is significant. So is the fact that the two lovely sisters represent polar opposites – Grace, the spirit and Caro, the flesh (Caro is Latin for flesh). The way they inhabit their bodies and respond to love and romance is indicated in their names. Likewise, the relationship between scientific language and poetry is also explored as is how careers are built or broken.
Spanning a period from the 1950s to the 1980s, Grace and Caro’s lives cross continents and inhabit specific places – from Sydney to New York, to the United Kingdom and Europe. And, like the celestial body after which the book is named, love and the highs and lows of that emotion orbit around their lives, as do the people who inspire or deny it.
This is one of my absolute favourite novels. It’s one I return to over and over. It’s inspirational and heart-wrenchingly lovely. A work of art in its own right and I’m not surprised it won so many awards. I just wish Hazzard was a faster writer so I could enjoy more of her works – all of which, whether the short story or non-fiction or essays, have the same beauty and finesse as her fiction.