On Shirley Hazzard is a vibrant and personal tribute in which the Miles Franklin Award–winning novelist Michelle de Kretser offers a masterclass in writing and reading. She celebrates the precision and musicality of Hazzard’s prose and illuminates the humor and humanity in her work. This exhilarating book is both a brilliant introduction to Hazzard and a gift for her longtime readers.
On Shirley Hazzard reveals Michelle de Kretser’s lively intelligence at work and her distinctive wit. This testament to her sustained engagement with Hazzard’s work is, at its core, an appreciation of the significance and joy of good fiction. Receptiveness when reading is a prerequisite for perceptive analysis, according to both de Kretser and Hazzard. And for prose, the “simple and precise,” the “transient and insignificant” are key qualities: “Not moonlight but the glitter of broken glass,” for de Kretser as for Chekhov. Selective biographical details about Hazzard are relayed, too—her leaving Australia and formal education at the age of sixteen, her working, unhappily, at the United Nations in Manhattan, her long friendship with Graham Greene. Hazzard’s morality is also invoked—“solidarity with the vulnerable” and pacifism being of prime importance.
Shirley Hazzard (1931–2016) published her first short story in The New Yorker in 1961. The magazine continued to publish her work in the decades thereafter, including excerpts from her most successful and beloved novel, the bestseller and National Book Critics Circle Award winner, The Transit of Venus (1980). Michelle de Kretser’s insightful and provocative appreciation does Hazzard fine justice.
In this compact, intriguing work, de Kretser (The Life to Come) offers a series of short appreciations of fellow Australian novelist Shirley Hazzard (1931 2016). Making no attempt to be exhaustive, de Kretser carefully chooses what interests her about Hazzard's work, covering such topics as the late author's "unwavering belief" in the transformational potential of art, her strong sense of place, and her politics Hazzard, de Kretser states, "reserves solidarity for the vulnerable," making the political personal. To convey a sense of who Hazzard was in her own words, de Kretser quotes heavily from her work, inviting the reader to linger over such vivid images as the "hard apple" of a cat's head rubbing against an arm. She also discusses characterization and "echo patterning" in Hazzard's work, particularly in The Transit of Venus and The Great Fire. These disparate subjects are unified by the deep attachment de Kretser feels to Hazzard's work, and the author herself. While this is unlikely to be accessible to those who aren't familiar with Hazzard's oeuvre, it stands as a deeply felt if idiosyncratic tribute.