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110 of 116 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2003
You'll either love this novel so much you'll read passages over and over, or you'll give up after a couple of chapters. I think the reason so many people have problems with "The Hours" is that they don't enjoy reading a novel with such a dark mood. Some people aren't entertained by reading about such tragic loneliness. Cunningham deals with characters who who are depressed to the point of despair even when they are surrounded by people who love them unconditionally. It's probably hard for most people who are reasonably happy to grasp that kind of pain. The author's beautiful and sometimes poetic writing is an amazing work of art; the novel deserved all the praise it received. The way the story parallels Virginia Woolf's masterpiece "Mrs. Dalloway" is inspired. The book truly takes the reader into the world in which Virginia Woolf lived her brilliant and tortured life, and the transitions from Woolf's era to those of Laura Brown and Clarissa Vaughn were beautifully done. The best way to read this book is on a rainy day, classical music in the background and a pot of tea on the stove. If only other novels could compare...
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63 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on October 24, 2000
In 1925, Virginia Woolf published her masterful novel, "Mrs. Dalloway". Set during a single day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, Woolf brilliantly used techniques which became hallmarks of the modern novel--interior monologue, first person narrative and a stunning, albeit unrelentingly difficult, stream-of-consciousness rendering--to produce one of the masterpieces of twentieth century English literature. Nearly seventy-five years later, Michael Cunningham has used many of these same techniques to write "The Hours", a fitting homage to Woolf and a novel which deservedly won both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Pulitzer Prize.
"The Hours" tells the story of a bright June day in the lives of three different women living in three different times and places. The first story is that of Virginia Woolf during a day in 1923, when she is writing "Mrs. Dalloway". The second is the story of Laura Brown, a thirtyish, bookish married woman living in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Laura has a four-year-old son and is pregnant with another child as she plans a birthday dinner for her husband on a day in 1949. The third story is that of Clarissa Vaughn, a fifty-two year old, slightly bohemian, literary agent who is planning a party for Richard, her long-time friend and one-time lover, a prominent writer dying of AIDS.
"The Hours" is, among other things, a nuanced and sensitive picture of middle age in the lives of its characters. Like the novel to which it pays tribute, "The Hours" relies heavily on interior monologue-on thoughts, memories and perceptions-to drive the narrative and to establish a powerful bond between the reader and each of the female protagonists. The reader feels the psychic pain of the aging Virginia Woolf as she contemplates suicide in the Prologue. The reader has an almost tactile sense of Laura Brown's claustrophobia, of her feeling that life is closing in around her, as she flees to a hotel for two hours in the middle of the day simply to spend time reading ("Mrs. Dalloway", of course). And the reader can identify with the yearning, the melancholy, that is suggested when Clarissa Vaughn thinks back to the time when she was young, when her life's choices had not yet been made.
"The Hours" is written, in short, like all great fiction--with deep feeling and love for its characters-and it stands as one of the outstanding American novels of the past decade. While resonating with the themes, techniques and characters of Woolf's difficult modern masterpiece, "The Hours" is masterful and original in its own right, an accessible and engaging work that is worth all the time you spend with it.
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95 of 104 people found the following review helpful
I must say I'm a bit surprised by the vicious attacks launched at Cunningham, especially by readers who admit they have not read anything by Woolf -- there is the first mistake. Though I haven't read Mrs. Dalloway in quite a while, I have read To the Lighthouse (one of my all time favorite novels) and Cunningham captures her genius perfectly! This book demands a certain amount of concentration on the reader's behalf, but it's worth it. If you have ever read anything by Woolf, you will immediately appreciate the nuance of his language. It's not pompous just because he gets the prosody and rhythm of Woolf right on the nose! Normally I don't like split narratives that jump from chapter to chapter, but Cunningham does it so seamlessly and with such a feel for the 3 main characters that I found myself drawn into all three story lines. I don't want to reveal how they all come together, but let's just say they do, and with a bang. To give an idea of the kind of subtlety Cunningham displays, let me give one example: Lara Brown, the housewife, feels unconnected to her husband and 3 year old child and all she wants to do is finish reading Mrs. Dalloway. But, since it's her husband's birthday, she follows the expected role and tries to make him a fantastic cake. When the cake turns out to be amateurish and imperfect, she becomes almost suicidally depressed and decides to throw it out and start again. The scene continues, but the disappointment with the cake takes on a life of its own. Readers of To the Lighthouse will be reminded of the central dining scene when Mrs. Ramsey prepares a magnificant feast in much the same vein for her family. Cunningham's writing and grasp of Woolf is inspired -- I can see why he got the Pulitzer Prize. For those who criticize, be sure to catch up on your Woolf before nailing Cunningham to the cross. It's really a terrific book.
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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on January 29, 2003
I wanted to read this book for a few years now since it's publication, but I never did. But when the movie came out and has so far been highly awarded as well I thought I should give the book a read. I have not seen the movie and I'm not sure about the movie after I read the amazing Novel. I'm so glad I started with Cunningham's novel because it is in one word: beautiful. I am a Woolf fan as well and I was amazed by how Cunningham was able to take the true essense of Woolf and create a truly different and complex novel. What is amazing about Woolf and Cunningham is the depth they place behind the characters. There is little talking in the book and little plot, but what is behind what is being said and done is the true message. Woolf's whole idea in writing was to explore the silence between people, all things left unsaid, all our inner thoughts and emotions, and in the end the big question is: do we ever truly know another human being? Cunningham has the very same ability in this novel as Woolf does in hers. I read this novel so quickly all in one day and I just felt tired afterward, I was drained of feeling. At first, as with Woolf's novels, I was depressed by the book, but I think going back and looking at it again I see the hint of hope that lies in the end of the novel, which is how many of Woolf's novels work as well. I highly recommend this amazing story of three women who all seem to be lacking something in their lives. Follow them through one day and explore the hours that help create them as complex and truly amazingly written characters.
My advice would be to read the novel before viewing the film. I plan to see the movie but I fear it will go against everything that Woolf and Cunningham are aiming at, I hope I'm surprised by the movie, but regardless this book is worth your Hours.
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49 of 54 people found the following review helpful
Not only the Pen/Faulkner award winner for fiction, this Pulitzer prize winner is a profound and moving novel. The story weaves together the lives of three different women (in three different periods of time). Each of the women's lives is experienced by the reader for only a matter of hours on a given day. Virginia Woolf who is recovering outside of London after (we assume) a nervous breakdown (or a suicide attempt?), Laura Brown who is a suburban housewife (in the 1950s) who is beginning to realize that her lovely home and family are stifling her, and Clarissa Vaughn who is in the process of planning a party for a dear old friend who has just won an important literary prize and is dying of AIDS in NYC . The reader spends a few hours with each of these women (alternating chapters), inside their heads as they go about the business of living on the given afternoons the author has chosen to share with us. I only wish that I had read Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway" before reading this novel as it would have made the experience of this novel that much more complete. Cunningham's writing is exquisite, his ability to realistically put into the voices of these women what people actually think and muse about and are troubled by, is simply a gift. To quote the back cover, ".. the (three) stories become intertwined, and finally come together in an act of subtle and haunting grace." Perfectly put. A must read.
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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on October 10, 2000
Michael Cunningham's novel, The Hours, is a tribute to Virginia Woolf but it is a treasure chest of rare gems in its own right.
The book is the story of one day in the lives of three extraordinarily remarkable women living in three different periods in history. In the first story, Cunningham takes a quasi-fictional look at the last day of Virginia Woolf's life. His description of Woolf's final thoughts as she descends into the deep water of the river are terrifically poignant and moving. Even those who are not fans of Woolf would be hard-pressed to come away from this without tears in their eyes.
The second story belongs to Clarissa Vaughan, nicknamed "Mrs. Dalloway," a Bohemian-style book editor living in present-day Greenwich Village. A woman concerned with aging, Clarissa still values individual moments, people, memories. Clarissa is busy with preparations for a party she is hosting for her former lover, an award-winning poet now dying of AIDS, a man modeled after Woolf's Septimus Warren Smith who battled demons of his own. The preparations for the party are more than reminiscent of Woolf's own heroine, Clarissa Dalloway.
The third story is set in post-World War II California and concerns itself with the life of Laura Brown. Laura is a housewife living what amounts to an extremely claustrophobic life. She feels closed in, shut out and intellectually impotent with regard to her mundane household chores. Laura Brown desperately needs a "room of her own." She tries to carve out just enough hours in the day to read Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway," and she considers Woolf's own suicide a viable option of her own for escaping a life that has become unlivable, not through horror but through simple lack of meaning.
Laura's story is, perhaps, the most difficult because it is the one that most parallels Woolf's own life. A brilliant woman, Virginia Woolf had the misfortune to live during a time where woman were seen and slept with but whose opinions were valued little. Cunningham adroitly gives us a look at, what must have been Woolf's own quiet desperation through Laura's eyes as she realizes that, no matter how intelligent is, no matter how much she has to contribute intellectually, no matter how many brilliant and original thoughts she has, ultimately, she will be judged only by the sheen on her kitchen floor and the flakiness of her pie crusts.
Although not long, The Hours is a book that demands the reader's undivided attention. It takes time and effort to mine all of its treasures, many of which lie far below the surface. The magic that ties these three disparate stories together is Cunningham's amazing prose. Although there are three stories going on at the same time, none ever feels jarring, interrupted or intrusive. Each jump in time, is, in fact, bittersweet. We hate to leave Clarissa and yet, at the same time, we can't wait to return to Laura. And Cunningham's careful attention to detail definitely shows his familiarity with Woolf. Many passages in the book are so brilliantly written they almost sing.
The Hours is a book that dazzles, not with melodrama, but with those individual and ordinary moments that flicker in our memories and then replay themselves again and again, against all odds and expectations.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 1999
A few sentences into Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Hours, one is aware that the reading of this book will be an altogether different experience. It will be trance-like, a dreamed interlude with a beautifully tragic story. A relatively short novel at 226 pages, it is somewhat astonishing what the author achieves. Intricately woven story lines, together with an impressive lyrical and poetic language, Cunningham has written a novel that transcends itself.
Named after Virginia Woolf's temporary title for her acclaimed novel, Mrs. Dalloway, this novel treads on rather cautious ground. Woolf is not only a major character in the book, but is an ever-present voive almost reading the words to us. Cunningham has talked of the enormous amount of research that went into the writing of the book--the reading of Woolf's entire literary canon, as well as letters, biographies, critical essays on the eccentric author. He also made a trip to London to Woolf's old residence and to the river where she took her own life. (See Poets & Writers, July/August 1999 issue for an interview with Cunningham) I say "cautious ground" in that Cunningham takes great literary freedom with Woolf's persona and psychological being. The prologue begins the novel with Woolf's last moments alive, of her chilling walk down to the river. It is a tragically moving opening, tense and intimate--a walk toward what we know will be an end of life. Here, in the first paragraphs of The Hours, we become aware that Woolf is guiding Cunningham who is guiding us: "She herself has failed. She is not a writer at all, really, she is merely a gifted eccentric[...] She has failed, and now the voices are back, muttering indistinctly just beyond the range of her vision, behind her, here, no turn and they've gone somewhere else."
Many voices are heard in the novel, which follow one day in the life of three women at three different eras of the twentieth century. We find Virginia Woolf in Richmond, a suburb of London, in 1923, as she begins to write and formulate what would become her novel, Mrs. Dalloway. We also follow Laura Brown, a disenchanted housewife in 1950s California, on the day of her war hero husband's birthday. And thirdly, we discover Clarissa Vaughn in modern day Greenwich Village, as she prepares a party for her good friend, an AIDS-stricken poet who has just won a major literary award.
The chapters weave in and out of each other, paralleled in many ways. In the end, Cunningham brings the stories together in a well-crafted manner that the reader can almost sense before the final chapters. These are the stories of dissatisfied women, human beings finding themselves at the center questions of life. There is, in each character, a pulling away from what they think is real, the identity, the living. They undergo the act of finding a new perspective of things, of the understanding of not understanding, the momentariness of things, feelings, and perceptions. The reader gets a sense that he or she is at the heart of it all. Woolf is caught at the center of mortality and creativity--she must endure the droll suburbs of Richmond for her health's sake, though she is spiritually pulled toward her London sanctuary of art and culture. Laura Brown is imprisoned in the ideology of family and womanly duty--her only escape is in the reading of Woolf's, Mrs. Dalloway, in a hotel room she rents for the afternoon. And for Clarissa Vaughn, we find a stuggle to reconcile the past, present, and future of a life's ongoing experience. Each character wants one thing: freedom. Freedom from the hours of restraint, when one is held by the responsibilty to oneself or to others. Freedom from decision, from anything that interrupts the will, the dream, the soul's breath. Whether or not any of these characters achieve this freedom is no doubt the reader's own decision to make.
The Hours marks the fourth novel of Cunningham's career. And it is clear that this is a novel just as much about him as it is by him. One can sense that the work is about creation, about the labor of making. For the characters in the novel, they seek to create comfort--comfort in a life that clearly does not offer it, and sometimes might even deny it. The author seeks to find himself in the writing process, and thus to find his own comfort as a writer. One cannot help but to see the relationship between Woolf and Cunningham as they begin to become voices for each other. A scene of Woolf at her desk is also a scene of Cunningham at his desk, of his ideas of the process. It is not a surprise that this novel garnered such high praise as the Pulitzer. The Hours is what a novel should be: an exploration into the heart of life, and of what we create for ourselves while we live it.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Michael Cunningham, in his book "The Hours," depicts three women who are going through similar crises in their lives. One is the troubled and talented author, Virginia Woolf. Woolf's recurrent episodes of madness are so frightening and disturbing to her that she finally resorts to suicide by drowning. The second woman is Laura Brown, a pregnant housewife who lives in California after World War II with her husband and her three-year-old boy. Laura is not content. Every day on earth is a torment to her. One of her few comforts is being by herself and reading Virginia Woolf's novel, "Mrs. Dalloway". Laura cannot see herself surviving day after dreary day as a housewife and mother into the distant future. Laura contemplates her options. Should she kill herself or run away?
The third woman is Clarissa Vaughan, an editor living in Greenwich village. One of Clarissa's oldest friends, Richard, is dying of AIDS. Richard has called Clarissa "Mrs. Dalloway" for years. As she watches Richard waste away, Clarissa begins to take stock of her own life. Clarissa lives with her female lover and their daughter. However, Clarissa often feels disconnected from her loved ones, and she is sometimes overwhelmed by her life.
All three of these heroines are persistently and painfully introspective. No part of their lives is unexamined and this close scrunity of every aspect of their existence brings these women more pain than enlightenment. Although I admire Cunningham's ability to write with subtley and grace, and although I sympathize with the plight of women who feel out of step with the world, I did not enjoy "The Hours". I found it too dark and devoid of hope, a novel that emphasizes the most negative aspects of being a woman.
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82 of 94 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 1999
Michael Cunningham has produced a genuine masterpiece, a brilliant work of art truly deserving of the Pulitzer Prize Award. It is to my mind the most outstanding novel I have read this year. Nobody who loves serious fiction or literature should miss it. It is THAT good. I can only surmise that Cunningham is a follower of Virgina Woolf. He is so imbued with her spirit that his prose reads almost like hers. His uncanny grasp of her "stream of consciousness" style lends a special resonance to the exploration of the "interior lives" of three women from different times who share a common predicament, that of a disconcerting dislocation from their external existence. There's Virgina Woolf, the author of "Mrs Dalloway" and central inspiration for the novel ; Laura Brown from a later age who reads "Mrs Dalloway" to escape the crushing nihilism of her domesticity and unconvincing contentment ; and Clarissa Vaughn, the modern day reincarnation of Woolf's celebrated heroine. While "The Hours" is a tour-de-force in its own right, my own enjoyment of it was so greatly enhanced by my familiarity with its source that I can only recommend fellow readers to first read the Woolf classic for inspiration before taking the plunge. The recurring theme of suicide, madness and sexual ambiguity as they are explored in the novel take on a special meaning armed with that understanding. There are two images which haunt the novel like a great spirit towering over the action - that from the opening sequence of Virginia calmly filling her pocket with a stone as she prepares to drown herself in the river and the closing sequence, where Laura is revealed to be the old woman from the contemporary story who looks out from the window opposite and witnesses a suicide. The use of the latter as a technical devise to draw the threads together for the close is a pure stroke of genius and a masterful sleight of hand ! This is a brilliant, brilliant piece of work that deserves the widest readership possible. I would have given it a SIX STAR rating had it been possible.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2000
Since I have loved Mrs. Dalloway since I first read it at 16, I was not sure I was going to like a book using her working title for it, The Hours. And it is written by a man, no less. But I found it nearly perfect in conception and execution and tremendously engrossing and moving.
The imaginative recreation of Virgina Wolfe's possible thoughts and style as revealed in her books is unerringly perceptive and probable. Vanessa Bell and Leonard Wolfe arise from the implications in their biographies and autobiographies as rounded characters. Amazing.
Many intelligent women, no matter how well-adjusted and active, have moments, hours even, when they feel as the characters in this book. Few of us act on them as drastically as these women and men, but these hours need to be accepted, understood and acted on in the smaller ways of which most of us are capable.
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