Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Hours by Michael Cunningham - revisited

Before I read The Hours by Michael Cunningham in 2003, I was well-aware of the connection to Mrs. Dalloway. Although I'd never read Virgina Woolf, it still seemed like an interesting premise for a novel. Plus, as a Pulitzer Prize winner, it fit in with the award-themed reading I was doing. As it turned out, The Hours was one of my favorite books that year. Cunningham's writing impressed me so much, I immediately read A Home at the End of the World and loved that, too! The Hours earned a spot in my 'permanent collection', and I knew I would revisit it one day.

That day came last month. Thanks to a gentle nudge from Woolf in Winter, I finally managed to read Mrs. Dalloway. As I turned the final pages, The Hours was already calling out, so I started it immediately. What was a good story with excellent writing in 2003 became sheer brilliance with Mrs. Dalloway fresh in my mind!

The prologue is an imagined account Virginia Woolf's suicide in 1941. The novel goes on to alternate, in relatively short chapters, between the lives of three women: Virginia Woolf, Laura Brown, and Clarissa Vaughan... all connected, in some way, to Mrs. Dalloway.

It opens with Clarissa Vaughan leaving her flat in New York City at the end of the twentieth century.
"There are still flowers to buy. Clarissa feigns exasperation (though she loves doing errands like this), leaves Sally cleaning the bathroom, and runs out, promising to be back in half an hour." (page 9)
Clarissa, 52, is giving a party for her friend Richard (who nicknamed her Mrs. Dalloway many years ago). He is a poet suffering from AIDS and is to be awarded a major literary prize later that evening.

The chapters about Virginia Woolf show her in the process of writing Mrs. Dalloway.
"Not eating is a vice, a drug of sorts - with her stomach empty she feels quick and clean, clearheaded, ready for a fight. She sips her coffee, sets it down, stretches her arms. This is one of the most singular experiences, waking on what feels like a good day, preparing to work, but not yet actually embarked. At this moment, there are infinite possibilities, whole hours ahead." (page 34)
Laura Brown is a suburban California housewife in 1949 who has difficulty coping with life's demands and is longing to retreat into the world of her current novel (Mrs. Dalloway).
"She brushes her teeth, brushes her hair , and starts downstairs. She pauses several treads from the bottom, listening, waiting; she is again possessed (it seems to be getting worse) by a dreamlike feeling, as if she is standing in the wings, about to go onstage and perform in a play for which she is not appropriately dressed, and for which she is not adequately rehearsed. What, she wonders is wrong with her. This is her husband in the kitchen; this is her little boy." (page 43)
If you've recently read Mrs. Dalloway, you must treat yourself to The Hours. You won't be sorry! And even if you haven't read Mrs. Dalloway, this is still a wonderful novel. While you're at it, watch the movie, too.

Other thoughts on The Hours:


  1. I'd read Mrs. Dalloway before reading The Hours, plus I'd seen the movie. The movie is my all-time favorite movie and I originally read the book because I figured it would be better.

    I hated it. I thought the writing was awful and I didn't understand what the big deal was. Sigh. I guess I'm just not a modern-adult-lit kind of girl. I prefer my classics.

  2. This sounds very good. I've yet to read Woolf, so I would like to do that first. The reviews of To The Lighthouse were almost uniformly laudatory, so that seems like a good place to start. But I will definitely note this as a follow-up!

  3. I loved this book! I then started Mrs Dallaway but only got through half and then got distracted by another book. I will finish it though:)
    Now I want to re-read The Hours

  4. I enjoyed this, though I've never read Mrs Dalloway...

  5. I have yet to brave a Woolf novel (I know! Bad Sandy!) and I even have not seen The Hours on DVD, despite my love for movies. One of these days, that is going to be a special project for me.

  6. I remember a few months back when Matt posted the pairing of The Hours with Mrs. Dalloway. Since I do plan, at some point in my life, to read Mrs. Dalloway (and after reading your glowing posts, I think it will have to be sooner rather than later), I went ahead and purchased a copy of The Hours when it was on clearance.

  7. Don't you just love a well-timed read? This sounds like a wonderful transition from one bit of Woolf love to another. The Hours is such a powerful book. The focus on objects, the peppering of life's sets with both the expected and the personal are especially beautiful as the characters strive to meet societal expectations that do not always serve their intellect, heart, or sanity well.

  8. I loved this book to bits even without having read Mrs. Dalloway - I thought it was so gorgeously written, and the emotional tone was just right. But I know I'll appreciate it even more once I have. Must do it soon!

  9. I'm saving this one as a present to myself for finishing Woolf in Winter. I found a copy at a used bookstore in pristine condition and gifted it to myself just as I was re-reading Mrs. Dalloway for the Woolf in Winter read-along.

  10. This is one of my FAVOURITE books of all time and I'm so glad you loved it. You can read it independently of course but I think it is so much richer being read off the back of Mrs Dalloway. A truly remarkable book I think.

  11. I just finished watching The Hours about an hour ago, so it was timely when I saw your posting.

    Although I enjoyed the movie, it was a downer. I have not read The Hours. I saw the movie several years ago, but after watching it again having read Mrs Dalloway, it made so much more sense.


  12. I, too, read Mrs.D and then The Hours and then The End of the World and then watched The Hours movie way back THEN. ! And so this latest Mrs. D was a reread that I was looking forward to and did not disappoint. I really should reread or watch The Hours because memory has faded for me. and not being much of an author-follower, I don't even know if Cunningham has written anything else - that can't be, right?

  13. Because I loved The Hours so much (and Cunningham's A Home at the End of the World), I thought I might enjoy Mrs. Dalloway.

    I started reading it, but kept getting distracted and couldn't fully engage. Perhaps because of extraneous elements in my life at the moment...I hope to return to it at some point.

    I also enjoyed the movies of both Cunningham books.

    I really want to read and enjoy "Mrs. Dalloway," so I'm frustrated that it's not happening for me right now!

  14. Hmmm . . . This sounds intriguing but I'm kind of wary of contemporary books based on Great Books of the past. Maybe it's that silly Austen mania that's been going on? But with all the acclaim this one's gotten, and having read Mrs. Dalloway, maybe I'll give it a try one day.

    I had an English teacher in high school named Michael Cunningham, believe it or not.

  15. I'm one of the few who dislike Mrs Dalloway, but this one sounds interesting.

  16. I have only seen the movie but I think reading the two together would be an ideal experience. Hmm...I do have that see the movie, read the book challenge...this could be a possibility.

  17. Amanda - Well, at least you love the movie! I'm trying to think if there has been a movie I liked more than the book, but can't seem to come up with one. ...And there's nothing wrong with preferring classics. I love them, too.

    Rhapsody in Books - To The Lighthouse will be my next Woolf, too. It seems to take a special mood or mindset (for me, anyway) to read Woolf, so choose your time carefully.

    Bookmagic - If you loved The Hours before, just wait and see how you react after reading Mrs. D! That should be incentive enough to get through Woolf.

    Verity - I'd bet you would appreciate it even more after Mrs. Dalloway. It gives a whole new dimension to what Cunningham has accomplished.

    Sandy - You know it took me 25 years to read Mrs. Dalloway, right? There's hope for anyone ;-) I am surprised you haven't seen the movie though.

    Molly - Well you're halfway there! I do think you need to be in just the right mood for Mrs. Dalloway - relaxed, unstressed, open...

    Frances - The timing here was perfect, although I was sorry not to read To The Lighthouse with everyone else. Trying to decide if I'll start it now or take a short break from Woolf.

    Nymeth - That's exactly how I felt when I first read The Hours! Reading it on the heels of Mrs. Dalloway brought it to an even higher level. Hope you are able to read the two together one day.

    Saveophelia - I am impressed with your willpower! This will be a wonderful gift for completing Woolf in Winter.

    Bookssnob - I keep noticing how our taste in books overlaps. Have you read any of Cunnungham's other novels?

  18. Christy - Reading Mrs. Dalloway really does make the experience of The Hours much richer... both the book and the movie.

    Care - Oh, yes.. either reread or watch The Hours. It's such an amazing experience with Mrs. D fresh in your mind! Cunningham has another book, Specimen Days, that I shoud look for.

    Laurel-Rain Snow - Don't get frustrated. It just may not be the right time for Mrs. D. It took me 3 tries and 25 years!

    E.L. Fay - This is in a totally different league than any of the Jane Austen spin-offs!!! The few I've read don't even come close to the quality of Cunningham's book.

    Softdrink - If you didn't like Mrs.D, you might not like this much. But Cunningham is a great writer, so you might want to try A Home at the End of the World.

    Book Psmith - This would be a perfect choice for that challenge! I would be doing well if I joined. Julie & Julia came from Netflix today - 2 good movies to look forward to this weekend.

  19. I love The Hours. I don't really know if I can understand and appreciate the many layers of Woolfe, but this book was one that I loved!

  20. I didn't want your post to end! The Hours was one of those movies which had all three of us entranced even though we all like different things. The book, as usual, sounds even more riveting.

  21. I read The Hours years ago. I should really revisit it as well one of these days.

  22. I refrained from reading The Hours because I hadn't read Mrs D. But now that I have, there's no reason not to anymore. Good to hear good things about it from you and the other commenters. :)

  23. I probably wouldn't try this before I read Woolf, but maybe I could see the movie.

  24. I loved this book, and the movie as well, though I felt Nicole Kidman was miscast as Woolf. What was fascinating was the way Cunningham worked in so much of Woolf's other writing, in addition to Mrs. Dalloway. Seems like the time for a re-read. Thank you!

  25. Staci - This was a great book even if you aren't a Woolf fan.

    Darlene - It's funny, but we all seemed to focus on different aspects of the movie, too. And yes, the book was even better!

    Dar - There were several parts of the book I really didn't remember at all... kind of scary, lol!

    Claire - Now is the perfect time for you to read The Hours!!

    DS - Since Mrs. Dalloway is the only Woolf I've read (so far), most of the other references were lost on me. I'm not done with her yet though...

  26. I loved the movie, but I'd like to wait to read Woolf before reading this one.

  27. Hazra - I'm sure you'd appreciate it even more if you wait and read the book first!

  28. I"ve read Mrs. Dalloway and seen The Hours. Somehow, I never got around to reading the book.

    Thanks for the awesome review reminding me about this gap!

    I loved all the sections you quoted from the book.

  29. Nishitak - If you've read Mrs. Dalloway and seen The Hours, then you owe it to yourself to read this book! I'm sure you won't be disappointed. Thanks for visiting my blog.

  30. Hi Deucekindred here : Thanks for Linking my review. The Hours is a wonderful wonderful novel and i'm kicking myself for not having read it earlier!

  31. Deucekindred - You're welcome! I absolutely loved The Hours, especially since I'd just finished Mrs. Dalloway. If you haven't read Cunningham's The Home at the End of the World, I'd definitely recommend it.

  32. That was my first Cunningham - Loved it to bits!!


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