On Shirley Hazzard

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Book Description

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.

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Praise For This Book

Praise for On Shirley Hazzard

“It is impossible to describe de Kretser’s prose as anything but rich, luxuriant, intense, and gorgeous.” —Anita Desai

"On Shirley Hazzard by Michelle de Kretser is an exquisite, nuanced homage to the renowned writer. It makes you want to return to Hazzard’s earlier books, starting with The Transit of Venus." —Nicole Abadee, The Sydney Morning Herald

“Novel by novel, the Sri Lankan–born Australian has emerged as one of the most fiercely intelligent voices in fiction today.” —Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

"On Shirley Hazzard, the result of de Kretser’s decades of reading Hazzard’s work, is a love note from one spectacular writer to another. This love arose at least in part due to biographical circumstance . . . But the affinity between de Kretser and Hazzard also comes from a shared style—a tendency toward the sumptuous and painterly, the surprising verb and electrifying adjective. Neither seems capable of writing a boring sentence, and one of the joys of reading this book is seeing one splendid stylist marveling at the stylistic splendor of another."—–Commonweal Magazine

"A short, exquisite book in which [de Kretser] pays tribute to a predecessor she never met or corresponded with, but whom she loved dearly enough that, upon learning of her death in 2016, she wept for days on end . . . When de Kretser writes, ‘Instead of conveying the moonlight, all I’m showing is the glitter of broken glass,’ that is only partly true, for she shows the moonlight as well as the glitter. Or better, the moonlight comes forth in the glitter, the way truth comes forth in a perception that has been cleansed by the writer’s reflective imagination." ––Robert Pogue Harrison, Sydney Review of Books

"De Kretser's associative critical conjectures are wonderful because they mess with our sense of orthodox, academically sanctioned truth . . . More of this type of criticism in the world? Yes please."" —Trevor Payne, The Literary Review

"A brief paean to a much–admired fellow Australian writer . . . De Kretser's book is strongest in its very personal, often moving appreciation for Hazzard's work."—Kirkus Reviews

"In this compact, intriguing work, de Kretser offers a series of short appreciations of fellow Australian novelist Shirley Hazzard . . . It stands as a deeply felt if idiosyncratic tribute." Publishers Weekly

"Michelle de Kretser's On Shirley Hazzard is my favorite kind of criticism: granular, expansive, stringent, confessional, beautifully written. Reading a brilliant, essential forebear, de Kretser meditates on the way literature, even as it discomfits us, can make us feel more at home in the world and in ourselves. This is a moving work of rigorous and loving homage." —Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You