Oh my goodness, I almost completely forgot about today being the day of the Slaves discussion of Shirley Hazzard’s marvelous book, The Transit of Venus. It was originally set to take place on the 31st of March and then got moved to today. And all last week nearly everyday I’d think to myself, Hazzard post on Monday, you won’t forget because it’s your birthday. And here I almost forgot! Bookman and I had the day off from work today to celebrate (there was yummy cake!) and I sat down at my computer to write a blog thinking, hmm, now what should I write about today? And my mind began to wander along, considering different ideas, before the realization struck me right between the eyes. So now, what to say about Transit of Venus?
I loved it. I have not read Hazzard before. She is one of those authors I fully intended to read, I have The Great Fire, but just haven’t gotten around to. After this, I have more incentive because I know what a treat will be in store.
The astronomical event called the transit of Venus takes place when the planet Venus passes between the sun and the Earth. It’s like a lunar eclipse but because Venus is farther away than the moon, when the transit happens Venus appears as a small dark spot moving across the sun rather than an eclipse. Transits come in pairs. The first part of the most recent transit took place on June 8, 2004. The second part of the pair will happen on June 6, 2012. After that, there won’t be another pair until 2117 and 2125. So mark your calendars for next June!
How the title fits the book, I haven’t entirely put together. Venus, of course, is also the Goddess of Love, which does fit the book. Oh, and I just realized she is even paired. The book is about two sisters, Caroline (Caro) and Grace Bell, born in Australia and orphaned at a young age when their parents died in a ferry accident. They were raised by their half-sister, Dora, the offspring from their father’s first marriage. So here we have our two Venuses. Their transit isn’t across the sun though, more a transit through life and a transit through love. So maybe that’s how the title fits.
Caro is the eldest of the two sisters, beautiful, but not in a conventional way. She is quiet and intelligent and observes people closely. She has a tendency to be unsettling. She also always seems so sure of herself. She is independent and practical and, in spite of being told by potential love interest Ted Tice that most people (read women) don’t pass the exam for a government job at all, let alone on the first try, Caro passes it the first time with flying colors. But of course because she is a woman in late 40s and early 50s London, she can only really work as a secretary.
Grace, the younger sister, is golden and domestic and beautiful and she manages to marry young, a man named Christian Thrale, who turns out to be a tightwad and not at all Christian. At first, of course, she is in love and happy and is everything a devoted wife should be. She has children. From the outside she has the perfect life. The inside, however, does not always match the outside.
Caro, does not get married until she is into her 30s. She has an affair for a number of years with a famous playwright. Eventually she does marry, a wealthy American, who flies around the world attempting to help dispossessed groups in issues of diplomacy and political interventions. It is a happy and satisfying marriage.
Then there is Ted Tice, the potential love interest. He loves Caro from the start but she doesn’t love him back. Still, he can’t move on from that. Eventually he marries and has children but his poor wife knows that he still loves Caro. Will he ever get the girl of his dreams? I’m not saying.
And always in the mix is the half-sister, Dora. She is mentally and emotionally abusive and continues to hold a certain power over both Grace and Caro well into their adult lives. She is a real piece of work. An entire blog post can be written about her alone.
Transit of Venus is a rich, gorgeously written book. Not once did anything go clunk. There isn’t really a plot to speak of. It is all character and all language, the kind of language that tastes like a square of extremely dark chocolate – the really good and expensive kind – melting slowly on your tongue.