The Transit of Venus (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews

This indispensable novel is set against a background of postwar London, with themes that include power and corruption, love and betrayal, gender wars, and international politics. Shirley Hazzard's prose is magic on the page. This, her sense of place and time, and her deep understanding of human nature place this book on my list of all-time greats.

Sisters Caro and Grace, Australian orphans, move to England eager to begin their lives in a new land. They see everyone clearly, yet fall for disastrous men. Their stories, and those of the characters in their circle--unfold over several decades, during a time of great societal change--and each pays a price for the choices that they make. 

This is a novel to linger over, not rush through, and to read again and again. Hazzard's sentences are little works of art; they're powerful and striking, and often very funny. I now understand so many writers include this on their list of favorite books.

A marvel of a book.

— From Clara's Picks


The masterpiece of Shirley Hazzard (1931-2016), The Transit of Venus won the National Book Critics' Circle Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award.

The Transit of Venus is considered Shirley Hazzard's most brilliant novel. It tells the story of two orphan sisters, Caroline and Grace Bell, as they leave Australia to start a new life in post-war England. What happens to these young women--seduction and abandonment, marriage and widowhood, love and betrayal--becomes as moving and wonderful and yet as predestined as the transits of the planets themselves. Gorgeously written and intricately constructed, Hazzard's novel is a story of place: Sydney, London, New York, Stockholm; of time: from the fifties to the eighties; and above all, of women and men in their passage through the displacements and absurdities of modern life.

About the Author

Born in Australia, Shirley Hazzard traveled the world during her early years, a result of her parents' diplomatic postings. In 1947, at the age of 16, she was engaged by British intelligence to monitor the civil war in China. In 1963, she married the writer Francis Steegmuller, who died in 1994. She has written several novels, two of which were National Book Award Finalists: The Bay of Noon (1971) and The Transit of Venus (1981, available from Penguin). She is also the author of two collections of short stories, and several works of nonfiction including the memoir Greene on Capri. Hazzard's most recent work, The Great Fire, won of the 2003 National Book Award for Fiction and the Miles Franklin Award. She died in 2016.

Praise For…

The Transit of Venus is maybe a perfect novel.” —Rumaan Alam, The New York Times Book Review (podcast)

“I cannot think of a more elegant writer. To me she personifies the word exquisite. . . . It’s the inner landscapes, the kind of minute, almost inevitable gestures and impulses that comprise human interaction that she’s just so brilliant at registering, and in this sense I think she’s truly the heir to Henry James. She’s just such a treat.” —Emily Eakin, The New York Times Book Review (podcast)
Product Details
ISBN: 9780140107470
ISBN-10: 0140107479
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: September 1st, 1990
Pages: 352
Language: English