We meet Australian sisters Caro and Grace at an English country house. Grace is engaged to the son of the household, the deeply conventional Christian Thrale. Caro, meanwhile, attracts the attention of Ted Tice, a young astronomer, and Paul Ivory, a writer. Seen through the eyes of these two very different men the novel follows Caro’s life as we witness the impact that her relationships, romantic and otherwise, have upon her. Grace, meanwhile, settles down to a domestic existence of homemaking and children. Caro is apparently the focus of the book, but at the same time is always seen through the faithfully devoted eyes of Ted Tice; as in the transit of Venus of the title Caro's life passes before his eyes and thus it is perhaps Tice, seemingly a marginal figure, who is the real centre of this intriguing novel.
What did we think of it?
We discussed the structure of this novel for quite a while, in particular the early foreshadowing of events that the affected our reading of the book. Why did the author choose to shape the book in such a way? Most appreciated the quality of the writing; long, carefully constructed sentences that were often a delight to read. At times, however, some found too much artifice in her style, and felt prevented from engaging fully with the characters. We did love her ability to establish character in just a line or two: "Mrs Thrale had been brought up to believe, on pain of losing her character, that her back must never touch the chair, never ever"; and just like that it is as if Mrs Thrale is there, sitting in the room beside you. Also Hazzard's capacity for humour: "Tertia offered fingertips, in a gesture not so much exhausted as reserving strength for something more worthwhile." We all derived much enjoyment from the brilliantly evoked character of Dora. For most of us our reading pleasure increased as we went on, and we liked the sense of importance that Hazzard brings to her characters lives, even though they are for the most part uneventful ones.
The planet Venus, and the astronomical event of its passage between the earth and the sun is allusively related to Caro's own progress through life. She is beautiful, bright, independent and remote. Although her heart is full of doubts, queries, hopes and fears little of this seems to show externally, and her response to the unwavering devotion of Ted Tice is usually repressive and cold. At the end of the novel, despite or perhaps because of information given by the author at an early stage, we were left confused and spent some time debating what actually happened. While an ending that does not lock down all the possibilities is usually a pleasing thing, in this case the overall mood was one of frustration.
An intelligent and demanding novel demonstrating an exquisite use of language, but there was a fragmented quality some found frustrating. Hazzard's ambitious book could have been deeply profound, but most of us felt it didn't achieve this, although there was much in it that was worthwhile.
Why were all the covers for the Hazzard book so awful? And what did Lake Constance by JMW Turner have to do with anything? • Why people don't eat more duck eggs • Bristol • The Dalí house on Cap Cruz • Patrick Rothfuss novels • adverbs and why they might be a bad thing • The Nicholls' Family Christmas Game (unplayed) • Joris Luyendijk's Swimming With Sharks and Kate's plan for dealing with global financial apocalypse • Hello Everybody by the same author
For three-quarters of the book I didn’t really enjoy it, I felt I was seeing the characters through the artifice of the author’s literary style. So the things that were profound in the book didn’t really strike me until the end, although I did ultimately find it thought-provoking and moving.
Despite being somewhat overwritten, at times even overblown, I took huge pleasure from it at the end and found it well worth the effort. It reflected a lot of insight back onto my own life.
I think she would be an excellent writer but she lacks discipline and rigour. I think she’s trying to say grand things about life but I don’t think she manages to pull it all together. Her caricatures were the only ones who I had any sense of as people. A better satirist than an earnest, overblown literary writer.
To begin with I was sceptical and I found it overly literary and highbrow. The language irritated me. But I did adjust to it and felt it was a book that benefitted from concentrated reading over time. It did build and grow on me and the revelations of the search at the end were very satisfying. Grace was really the only kind character, and Adam Vail.
I loved her dense sentences that felt more rewarding the more carefully you read them. I found this an exacting book that demanded attentive reading. For me, the characters were too remote to really identify with or even like very much, and I found the plot revelations towards the end of the novel somewhat clunky, although I think she set it up well. What I really loved in this book was the humour; the character of Dora was a creation of comic genius, and I wished that Hazzard had given more free rein to her capacity for this sharp, subtle writing. And I liked the idea of Caro as an observed creature, but the careful quality of 'unknowability' Hazzard builds in ultimately defeated me.
This book club took place in May 2016 and was our 'reading retreat' at Sally's parents' house in France. We appropriated our favourite reading nooks (mine was the bashed up red basket sofa while Laura preferred the more noisy scene by the frog pond) and lazed in idyllic sunshine one day, and sheltered from thunderstorms the next. We ate fantastic food and had spirited discussions about the books suggested to us by our Bibliotherapist Susan Elderkin. Meanwhile Simon attempted to swim 1,000 lengths of the swimming pool and Natalie revealed her childhood skills at synchronized swimming demonstrating a perfect Isle of Man. Click here for photo gallery. We also read I Was Amelia Earhart by Jane Mendelsohn.