Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Genre: General fiction
Publisher, Year: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2002
Other Works: A Home at the End of the World
Flags: Moderate language, Adult themes
Rating: A or Great Read
Challenge: Book Awards III, Countdown
Premise: Three women go through the events of their day--strangers, yet inexpicably connected.

I think if I’d read Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, it would have enhanced my experience with The Hours, but having that background was not essential in falling in love with this carefully crafted novel. I love how the title is so fitting and significant. Everything about this book was just right for me.

The book focuses on the stories of three women, all which are told chronologically, although each woman lives in a different time: Clarissa, a forty-something woman looking after a dying friend; Laura, a young mother in the 50s; and Virginia herself, writer and tortured soul. Through the events of a single day, each woman goes about her duties—seemingly insignificant acts, daily events, nothing special. Cunningham very adeptly shows us that those menial moments that we plow through everyday reveal something within us, an inner commentary, a million daily decisions that shape and change who we are, how we live—and how we die. +/-

The book begins with Virginia Woolf’s suicide. (And, I have to say, if death is not an interesting literary topic for you, this book may not be your cup of tea.) The thing I really admired about Cunningham’s take is how his exploration of the meaning of death also accentuated, by showing it in relief, an exploration of the meaning of life. And without the push and pull of trying too hard. Our lives are composed merely and simply of hour after hour after hour. Some of those hours are filled with a rapturous joy, more are filled with sadness. How does that rapture measure up in conjunction with our miseries? How do we move from the sad hours to the happy hours, and what happens to us during those hours in between the tug-of-war?

Needless to say, Michael Cunningham is indeed a talented writer of prose. The language in this book took me to another place. I didn’t find it a page-turner, per se, but I was surprised when I turned the final page. That is to say—the story ran and I hardly noticed the speed. It is a somber work, but a delight just the same. A contemplative work of art.


Anonymous said...

I did not like The Hours, when I read it years ago, but I suspect it was because I had not read Mrs. Dalloway first. I know, how can I call myself a reader and not have read that masterpiece by Virginia Woolf? However, that will all change this fall as I'm joining the Virginia Woolf read-along hosted by Claire and Frances and a few others I can't remember right now. Click on the link in my sidebar if you're interested in joining; I'm sure you'll be able to spread some light on the works for people like me.

Care said...

The Hours was my prompt to read Mrs. Dalloway and I will be reading it again for the Flashback (re-read) challenge and the Woolf Readalong that dolcebellezza mentioned.

Cam said...

Thanks dolcebellezza and Care - I really must check out this Woolf challenge! Sounds like a lot of fun.

Lisa said...

I was so intrigued with this one that I bought it twice. Glad to know it was worth it.