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The Hours: A Novel Paperback – January 15, 2000
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The Hours is both an homage to Virginia Woolf and very much its own creature. Even as Michael Cunningham brings his literary idol back to life, he intertwines her story with those of two more contemporary women. One gray suburban London morning in 1923, Woolf awakens from a dream that will soon lead to Mrs. Dalloway. In the present, on a beautiful June day in Greenwich Village, 52-year-old Clarissa Vaughan is planning a party for her oldest love, a poet dying of AIDS. And in Los Angeles in 1949, Laura Brown, pregnant and unsettled, does her best to prepare for her husband's birthday, but can't seem to stop reading Woolf. These women's lives are linked both by the 1925 novel and by the few precious moments of possibility each keeps returning to. Clarissa is to eventually realize:
There's just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we've ever imagined.... Still, we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything, for more.As Cunningham moves between the three women, his transitions are seamless. One early chapter ends with Woolf picking up her pen and composing her first sentence, "Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself." The next begins with Laura rejoicing over that line and the fictional universe she is about to enter. Clarissa's day, on the other hand, is a mirror of Mrs. Dalloway's--with, however, an appropriate degree of modern beveling as Cunningham updates and elaborates his source of inspiration. Clarissa knows that her desire to give her friend the perfect party may seem trivial to many. Yet it seems better to her than shutting down in the face of disaster and despair. Like its literary inspiration, The Hours is a hymn to consciousness and the beauties and losses it perceives. It is also a reminder that, as Cunningham again and again makes us realize, art belongs to far more than just "the world of objects." --Kerry Fried --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
At first blush, the structural and thematic conceits of this novel--three interwoven novellas in varying degrees connected to Virginia Woolf--seem like the stuff of a graduate student's pipe dream: a great idea in the dorm room that betrays a lack of originality. But as soon as one dips into Cunningham's prologue, in which Woolf's suicide is rendered with a precise yet harrowing matter-of-factness ("She hurries from the house, wearing a coat too heavy for the weather. It is 1941. She has left a note for Leonard, and another for Vanessa."), the reader becomes completely entranced. This book more than fulfills the promise of Cunningham's 1990 debut, A Home at the End of the World, while showing that sweep does not necessarily require the sprawl of his second book, Flesh and Blood. In alternating chapters, the three stories unfold: "Mrs. Woolf," about Virginia's own struggle to find an opening for Mrs. Dalloway in 1923; "Mrs. Brown," about one Laura Brown's efforts to escape, somehow, an airless marriage in California in 1949 while, coincidentally, reading Mrs. Dalloway; and "Mrs. Dalloway," which is set in 1990s Greenwich Village and concerns Clarissa Vaughan's preparations for a party for her gay--and dying--friend, Richard, who has nicknamed her Mrs. Dalloway. Cunningham's insightful use of the historical record concerning Woolf in her household outside London in the 1920s is matched by his audacious imagining of her inner lifeand his equally impressive plunges into the lives of Laura and Clarissa. The book would have been altogether absorbing had it been linked only thematically. However, Cunningham cleverly manages to pull the stories even more intimately togther in the closing pages. Along the way, rich and beautifully nuanced scenes follow one upon the other: Virginia, tired and weak, irked by the early arrival of headstrong sister Vanessa, her three children and the dead bird they bury in the backyard; Laura's afternoon escape to an L.A. hotel to read for a few hours; Clarissa's anguished witnessing of her friend's suicidal jump down an airshaft, rendered with unforgettable detail. The overall effect of this book is twofold. First, it makes a reader hunger to know all about Woolf, again; readers may be spooked at times, as Woolf's spirit emerges in unexpected ways, but hers is an abiding presence, more about living than dying. Second, and this is the gargantuan accomplishment of this small book, it makes a reader believe in the possibility and depth of a communality based on great literature, literature that has shown people how to live and what to ask of life. (Nov.) FYI: The Hours was a working title that Woolf for a time gave to Mrs. Dalloway.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Laura Brown, a housewife at on the cusp of middle age, pregnant with her second child, tries desperately to connect to her three year old son, and struggles with depression, disillusionment of living a stereotypical female life, and suicidal ideation, mirroring the demons that afflicted Woolf herself prior to her own suicide, in 1941. Clarissa Vaughn, dubbed Mrs. Dalloway (a character from a novel written by Woolf), by her ill-fated, bi-sexual, lover, Richard Brown, who not only is similar to the tragic character Septimus Smith, in the Woolf novel, but her story mirrors Woolf’s real life bohemian lifestyle where she had an open relationship with a man who had a separate gay lover, and where Woolf herself had a same sex relationship with Vita Sachville-West. Cunningham cleverly sets the tone of the story by weaving elements of the famous author’s own life, as tragic metaphors—of Mrs. Dalloway (Vaughn) and Mrs. Laura Brown, comparing them with Woolf’s own life in 1923, as she recovers from mental illness in the suburbs with her husband while writing her novel, Mrs. Dalloway, and planning a tragedy, that foreshadows, Richard Brown’s demise, in Clarissa’s story.
The clever use of language, and stream of consciousness similar to a modernist style, and the precise, vivid, descriptive language, that paints pictures into the mind of the reader, captures Woolf’s own unique style and enhances the melancholy tone of the novel. The author uses his character descriptions, not only to set the tone of the story, but to foreshadow its tragic ending, stating:
She straightens her shoulders as she stands at the corner of
Eighth Street and Fifth Avenue, waiting for the light… She
still has a certain sexiness; a certain bohemian, good-witch sort
of charm; and yet this morning she makes a tragic sight, standing
so straight in her big shirt and exotic shoes, resisting the pull of
gravity, a female mammoth already up to its knees in the tar,
taking a rest between efforts, standing bulky and proud, almost
nonchalant, pretending to contemplate the tender grasses waiting
on the far bank when it is beginning to know for certain that it will
remain here, trapped and alone, after dark, when the jackals come
out. (Cunningham, 13).
Through Clarissa’s story, Cunningham cleverly crafts his theme into the first few pages of his novel, “she loves the world, for being rude and indestructible, and she knows other people must love it too … Why else do we struggle to go on living, no matter how compromised, no matter how harmed?” (Cunningham, 15).
Like Woolf, Cunningham is able to develop original, fresh metaphors that capture an image, and compares her madness, and debilitating headaches to a “scintillating silver-white mass … like a jellyfish.” (Cunningham, 70). Cunningham use of a cake to represent ‘disappointment’ in Laura Brown’s story is Poignant, and reminiscent of the manner Woolf takes the mundane, in Mrs. Dalloway, and makes it remarkable. It compares the cake to her ‘life as a mother and housewife.’ Laura’s ability to bake a simple birthday cake for her husband transcends her success or failure as a wife and mother. “The cake will speak of bounty and delight the way a good house speaks of comfort and safety.” (Cunningham, 76). When she begins the process, Laura is filled with anticipation of a great accomplishment, “she hopes to be as satisfied and as filled with anticipation as a writer putting down the first sentence, a builder beginning to draw the plans” (Cunningham, 77) but in the end, Laura Brown is disappointed, “[t]he cake is less than she’d hoped it would be.” The cake parallels the disillusionment she has for her life, “there’s nothing really wrong with it, but she’d imagined something more. She’d imagined it larger, more remarkable.” (Cunningham, 99). Cunningham goes even further with his metaphor. He compares the disappointments in Virginia Woolf’s life, with the failure of Brown to make a remarkable cake. “Would she rather …have her cake sneered at? Of course not … she wants to be a competent mother … a wife who sets a perfect table. She does not want … to be the strange woman, the pathetic creature, … tolerated but not loved. Virginia Woolf put a stone into the coat of her pocket, walked into a river, and drowned.” (Cunningham, 101). Further, the subtle reference to an unknown illness revealed in Brown’s story of her neighbor and (wanton lover) Kitty, is metaphoric when compared to Clarissa’s allusive love interest in her friend and former lover, Richard Brown, who is dying of aids. Additionally, Cunningham places subtle references to the influence of the sexual abuse that plagued Woolf throughout her life, into the stories of these different women, as well as her homoerotic nature. Brown, kisses her child and feels something more than motherly love stirring, Clarissa’s kiss of her daughter Julia, and Woolf’s strange kiss with her sister Vanessa, stir restlessly below the surface, like the “innocent kiss” in the kitchen that “feels like the most delicious and forbidden of pleasures.” (Cunningham, 154).
Cunningham also sets up a metaphor where Brown’s suicidal ideation, as she rents a room to read a novel (ironically by Woolf) and is directly compared with Woolf’s own ideations, “She could decide to die… She imagines Virginia Woolf, virginal, unbalanced, defeated by the impossible demands of life and art, she imagines her stepping into a river with a stone in her pocket. …it would be as simple   as checking into a hotel.” (Cunningham, 152). Through it all, Cunningham manages to eke out a positive, message from a dark theme of death, disintegrating relationships and disillusionment, by comparing the hours of ‘brightness’ in each story, Brown’s joy in her son’s tender moments of love and endearment, Clarissa’s romanticism, and love of nature, and of flowers—set in a natural way, compare with Woolf’s sudden realization that life hold’s precious moments that make all of the other dismal hours seem worthwhile, “there is this hour, now, in the kitchen” with her sister Vanessa, drinking tea, “[h]ow could she bear to leave all this?” And the forbidden pleasures of a “Kiss.” (Cunningham, 154).
Like a lyrical essay, with its poetic language streaming in the reader’s imagination, Cunningham ties his story together with delicate associations, and subtle metaphorical images that mesmerize, and leave a reader with a better understanding of modern literature; so immutable, touching, squeezing, and stimulating the soul of each of us with a unique, a
A good read for literature aficionados, no doubt. The book is poignant and existential.
The redaction is absolutely immersive, real and organic. The portraits of every character are totally believable and living, and the story is very humane and present.
Although "The hours" is very closely linked to "Mrs Dalloway", by Virginia Woolf, it shines with its own light and is a total delight by itself. (You don't have to read "Mrs Dalloway" to understand "The hours", but if you do you will find a bigger treasure in this book)
Most recent customer reviews
Reviewing The Hours I find myself stuck somewhere in between tick and tock.Read more