Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Bay of Noon

A young English woman in Naples in the aftermath of World war II meets an Italian writer. A simple enough encounter that leads to a friendship with both the writer, felicitously named Gioconda, and the writer's lover Gianni, a Roman film director. This book is short, yet far from simple as the encounter contrasts both the trio and a fourth person, a Scotsman named Justin, and highlights the background of each of the characters as their lives are woven together. Shirley Hazzard demonstrates here the style that would lead to her award-winning novel, The Transit of Venus, a decade later.

In The Bay of Noon we have a simple story that is made large through the novelist's deft phrases and characterization. Notably the city of Naples itself becomes an important character reacting with and in turn influencing the life of young Jenny. Each of the lives are portrayed with an arc that is believable and, in part, tragic as life can sometimes be. The journey depicted is one of beauty and ultimate satisfaction for the reader.

The Bay of Noon was a National Book Award finalist (Fiction, 1971). Shirley Hazzard was married to the noted biographer Francis Steegmuller who died in 1994. I have previously read and enjoyed The Transit of Venus, Hazzard's masterful family saga that was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction in 1980.

The Bay of Noon by Shirley Hazzard. Picador Books, New York. 1970.
The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard. Penguin Books, New York. 1990 (1980).

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