The collected short fiction of the master prose stylist Shirley Hazzard. Taken together, these twenty-eight short stories range from quotidian struggles between beauty and pragmatism to satirical send-ups of international bureaucracy, from the Italian countryside to suburban Connecticut. Hazzard's heroes are high-minded romantics attempting to fit their feelings into the twentieth-century world of office jobs and dreary marriages. The comedy, the tragedy, and the splendor of love, the pursuit and the absence of it, animates Hazzard's stories and provides the truth and beauty that her protagonists seek.
Shirley Hazzard is a perfectionist’s writer. Her books, composed of dense, layered sentences, are like the sort of difficult, delicate cakes no one bothers to make anymore. They’re slender yet solid, consummate, as fascinated and affected by the mysteries of experience as they are self-assured ... Where contemporary aphorists call on the reader to fill in the gaps of their fragmented narratives, often visually represented as white space, Hazzard manages to traverse incredible spans of time and emotion from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph while fastidiously ensuring everything the reader needs to understand is there ... Her writing requires the sort of sustained attention she believed art deserved, but her relationship with her reader is always reciprocal: she doesn’t create mystery but reveals its vital place in life ... Her narratives are structured as inevitabilities in a way that heightens the role and significance of the writer without overstating it; events are heavily foreshadowed, and history, particularly the World Wars, is always refracting the present and future. At the same time, one of her strengths is the way she makes the random occurrences that appear throughout her work—sudden deaths, strange illnesses, the heartbreak of unplanned romance on the eve of a planned departure—truly stunning, the way they would be in life ... Like love, great art always seems to contain some portion of inexplicability, but the argument Hazzard developed throughout her career was, in fact, empoweringly rational: it’s only in the telling that chance becomes fate. In the telling, it is obvious,' the narrator of The Bay of Noon says. 'In the telling, all things are.'
Hazzard, who died in 2016, is best known as the author of two magnificent, intricate novels, >em>The Transit of Venus ...and The Great Fire...The stories collected here offer a perfect introduction to her astringent sensibility ... Hazzard’s characters are yearning for intimacy and perfect understanding and are not quite resigned to their inevitable disappointment ... The stories set at the U.N. are tartly satirical as Hazzard buries her bureaucrats, no matter how idealistic, under a blizzard of papers such as the 'Provisional Report of the Working Group on Unforeseeable Contingencies' and checklists 'painstakingly devised to avoid anything resembling a personal opinion.' They feel like an up-to-the-minute investigation of the failures of White saviorism in the form of a time capsule from the Mad Men era ... Sharply intelligent, nuanced, precise, and subtly hilarious.
...makes for an outmoded collection, propelled by themes of mid-century bourgeois disillusionment—affairs, arguments, disappointing relationships, time spent at country houses, and trips to Europe. Despite the heavy emotional atmosphere, Hazzard’s prose has the restraint and polish of glossy magazine writing, offering crisp, easy descriptions of her desperate characters. Unfortunately, the stories never quite achieve the depth they seemingly aim for, especially in those about the staff of an international peacekeeping organization from People in Glass Houses ... These stories feel like quaint antiques from a bygone time.