Michelle de Kretser on Shirley Hazzard

by Michelle de Kretser

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 humour 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 16, 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 best-seller and National Book Critics Circle Award winner, The Transit of Venus (1980). Michelle de Kretser’s insightful and provocative appreciation does Hazzard fine justice.