Saturday, February 9, 2013

Review: The Hours by Michael Cunningham

While I was visiting my parents house the movie version of Michael Cunningham's The Hours came on and I watched the first half of it with my mother. I was thoroughly hooked on the movie, but I knew that I wanted to read the book before I finished the movie so I stopped watching and went off to read whatever book I was reading at the time.
Having been sick and confined to bed all week I was ready for a new read after finishing two in two days. I was in the mood for something serious and I knew that it was time for me to read The Hours. I should have consulted my 2013 TBR Pile list before diving into this book as it was my pick for May of this year, but I was so strongly feeling the urge to read it that I abandoned all thought and read the book in two days in February. Oh well, that frees up May some for me then I suppose.

Title: The Hours
Author: Michael Cunningham
Publication Date: 1999
Publisher: Macmillian/Picador
Pages: 240
Where I Got It: Ed MacKays Used Books, Winston-Salem, NC, July 2012
Dates I Read It: February 7 & 8, 2013
Number of Stars: 5/5
Read For: 2013 TBR Pile Challenge (May Selection, oops); 1001 Books to Read Challenge

The Hours is the story of three women in different eras living their life in one day. First we meet Virginia Woolf, yes, THE Virginia Woolf, on the morning that she begins writing Mrs. Dalloway. Next we meet Clarissa Vaughn living in the late 1990's New York City who is planning a party for her long-time friend, Richard, who is being honored with a distinguished literary award, and finally we meet Laura Brown who only wants to read Mrs. Dalloway and escape from her mundane housewife life in 1950's America. We journey on one day in the lives of each of these ladies much like we journey one day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway in the novel Mrs. Dalloway. In the end the three lives will interchange and all come together in an act of interconnectedness like no other. If you do not see the shocking connection before the association is revealed, plan to be in for a big surprise.
I got a lot out of this book. Having never read Mrs. Dalloway (though I certainly plan to do so very soon) I was not sure that I would follow along with this novel very well. However, I do know the synopsis of Mrs. Dalloway which did help to understand the mechanisms that Cunningham used to write this novel. The prose is deliciously great. The story as a whole flows like a river pulling the characters (and the reader) along a smooth flowing stream in a day. There is little to no action at all and we mostly get thoughts  descriptions of places and motives, and some dialogue. While this may sound quite prosaic, I assure that it is anything but. Each of the women are struggling with an inner unrest that leaves you wondering what she will choose to do about it.
The characters were astonishingly realistic. Though it's almost impossible to know the exact actions and thoughts that Woolf had during her time at Hogarth House (there is really only so much one can gather from letters), Cunningham does a splendid job of giving life and feeling and depth to Woolf as well as the other two women in the novel. Though there is little character development aside from Laura Brown I felt a sense of belief and trust in these three women. They behaved as women do in their individual dilemmas and they spoke the way I would expect them to and they thought in a manner that was true to their time and person. Even the minor characters like Vanessa (Woolf's sister) and Kitty (Laura's neighbor) and Julie (Clarissa's daughter) were fully formed and believable.
I found no fault with this novel which is very rare for me. I credit as being a great work of fiction and can easily understand how it won the PEN/Faulkner as well as the Pulitzer and the Stonewall.
The video version of the book is currently available on Netflix and I hope to be able to watch it this weekend sometime and do a review of it comparing it to the novel. The first half seemed to follow the book to a T. However, look for a review for that soon and check back for more information on my sister blog which is up and under construction, but not quite ready for me to say "go to this great new blog I've got, you won't be disappointed" yet.

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