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The Hours: A Novel [Hardcover]

Michael Cunningham
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (486 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Nov. 11 1998
A daring, deeply affecting third novel by the author of A Home at the End of the World and Flesh and Blood.

In The Hours, Michael Cunningham, widely praised as one of the most gifted writers of his generation, draws inventively on the life and work of Virginia Woolf to tell the story of a group of contemporary characters struggling with the conflicting claims of love and inheritance, hope and despair. The narrative of Woolf's last days before her suicide early in World War II counterpoints the fictional stories of Samuel, a famous poet whose life has been shadowed by his talented and troubled mother, and his lifelong friend Clarissa, who strives to forge a balanced and rewarding life in spite of the demands of friends, lovers, and family.

Passionate, profound, and deeply moving, this is Cunningham's most remarkable achievement to date.
The Hours is the winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

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From Amazon

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

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.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A literary feat Aug. 29 2009
The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel intertwines the lives of three women from different eras. Laura Brown, a pregnant housewife in 1949 California, is planning a party for her husband but is preoccupied reading Mrs. Dalloway. Clarissa Vaughan, a publisher, living in late twentieth-century New York is throwing a party for her friend Richard, a famous author dying of AIDS, the illness causing her to reevaluate her choices in life. Virginia Woolf is starting to write her book, Mrs. Dalloway, in 1923 suburban England. The basic theme is wondering if it is better to live your life for your own happiness or the happiness of others.

The story shoots back to the past in their memories and, in doing so, creates a depth of history that infiltrates their minds during the present moments in the story. The plot cannot be examined separately; as descriptive as the moments of buying flowers (flowers are a central motif) and baking a cake are, they are trivial without the delicious internal thoughts that accompany them. However, the triviality of the tasks was deliberate. Complacencies are confronted, causing them to face important questions about life and death. The author uses stream of consciousness to explore their inner lives (also used in Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway--the book's literary muse), and he does this with great sensitivity.

Cunningham's choice of protagonists is an interesting study. Increasingly, flawed characters, even antiheros, are being accepted because they are more identifiable and accessible to readers. Different people, of course, have different reasons for reading, and a reader who wants a fast-moving plot will likely have difficulty getting through this meditation of humanity.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Not as depressing... June 24 2004
By rantboi
Format:Hardcover some people think. I read this book in about two days, and to tell you the truth, I didn't feel 'depressed' because of it. I don't know, maybe it's because as someone who has been through war, poverty, depression, and other stuff I don't care to mention, I can't really see their problems as a big deal. I think that I, as a sixteen year old at this time, have more right to be depressed and suicidal than these three women. (Except maybe for Woolf, but not the way she was written into this book.) But, I still see how they could feel like that. After all, who am I to decide who should and shouldn't be depressed? As another reviewer said, depression can get to anyone, but for someone like me, I doubt these characters' problems will seem significant enough to call this a 'depressing' or 'life-changing' novel.
Now, to the writing. I think it was greatly done, although I liked his style in 'A Home at the End of the World' a bit better for some reason. (Still have to read 'Flesh and Blood'.) Michael Cunningham is for sure one of the better writers around. As for the movie based on this novel, I watched it before I read it, and thought it was beautifully done.
In conclusion, I think this novel is worth reading, but I highly doubt that people who've been through far more crap than these characters will really relate to them.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Modern Classic June 13 2004
I sincerely hope that, with the passage of time, this book will come to be seen as a true modern masterpiece. This is certainly the most fluid, effective, and beautiful novel I have been fortunate enough to encounter. I have not yet read Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, but, even without having experienced this book in the context of that work, The Hours stands very much on its own.
The story has been recounted so many times here that another summary would be completely superfluous. I'll concentrate here on the efficacy with which Michael Cunningham wields his literary powers. As he himself has said, a novel should function as a companion. The Hours seems to comply rather well with that definition. With its subtly yet powerfully interwoven themes of sexuality, contentedness, youth, affection, anxiety, the choices we make, and, especially, the nature of art, it manages to awaken the reader to a world of new ideas and perceptions. When you read The Hours, the book accompanies you inside yourself and out into the world; it has become a lens through which I analyze and observe.
The single most powerful aspect of the novel was, to me, the writing style. Even if a novel has poignant ideologies and effective characterizations, I find myself detached from it unless it speaks to me stylistically. Cunningham's prose is meltingly gorgeous. His writing isn't really stream-of-consciousness, but it just takes you so far within his characters.
The Hours earns my highest recommendation, as does the film adaptation, which is remarkably effective in translating a very un-cinematic novel onto the screen. Many have deemed both book and movie overly depressing, but I have found them uplifting and incredibly engaging. You owe it to yourself to read this novel.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Emotional, But Rewarding Feb. 25 2004
A person (the snob one, the one who can scan a book without moving his lips) commented to me once how mediocre this book is. "Absolutely mediocre," he said, "I just read it because of the movie." After finishing Cunningham's book, THE HOURS, I felt the need to agree with my friend, but only for a fraction. There's nothing wrong with the book, really, but I suppose the intellectual reader would still brand it dull and overly emotional. The book, after-all, is a study (a brilliant one, let me add) of three women's lives- their daily frustrations, their wants and needs that can't be earned no matter how one tries so hard. (Melo-dramatic, is it not? quite soap-operatic?) But Cunningham is a loveable writer, and here he suceeded and gave us a masterpiece that could have been worst. This is a highly readable novel, a novel both for the curious and the gifted, a book that you'll love for sure.
Cunningham's Richard is the ultimate modern-day tragic hero. Here he created a character that is a source of pain, only pain, a Virginia Woolf re-incarnation of some sort. But Richard's pain, the author reminds us, is not one brought by his sexuality or illness but by the past, brought by rejection and how this rejection shattered the life of a supposedly brilliant man.
In a way, THE HOURS, is a meditation of the past, a rememory, a re-living. And there's nothing mediocre about it. (NOTE: In addition, read THE BLACKWATER LIGHTSHIP by Tolm Coibin)
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Liked it, but seemed to be lacking something
While I enjoyed this book, I fear it was for all the wrong reasons. Here's my outline of what I liked and didn't:
PLOT: This was pretty much non-existent. Read more
Published on July 12 2004 by Morris
5.0 out of 5 stars An incredible book!
This is the story of three women in three different time periods, Cunningham does a wonderful job in demonstrating the connections between these women. Read more
Published on July 1 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars Size does matter...
I have to start by saying that Cunningham can write. He writes very well. Also, the book is an entertaining read. Read more
Published on June 27 2004 by P. Shelton
4.0 out of 5 stars Size does matter...
I have to start by saying that Cunningham can write. He writes very well. Also, the book is an entertaining read. Read more
Published on June 27 2004 by P. Shelton
5.0 out of 5 stars Top of my list
This book is a must read. Michael Cunningham managed to do what I think many authors fail to do: actually feel the emotional pain of his characters. Read more
Published on June 10 2004 by J. Laudermilch
5.0 out of 5 stars Consider reading
The Hours is a novel that boldly deals with the delicate fabric of sensitivy, and explores the introspective realms of love, confusion, embitterment, life, and death. Read more
Published on June 8 2004 by Montese C.
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book I have ever read
You'll get lost in the emotion of the character's from begging to end.I great read full of emotional rollercosters.Highly recomand for a book club.
Published on June 6 2004 by Jake
1.0 out of 5 stars Not a genuiniely feminist novel
I've had to read this book twice in graduate school, and even though I'm a feminist, I can't stand this book. Read more
Published on May 25 2004 by Hilary
5.0 out of 5 stars A Beautiful Meditation on Life...Love...Death
I loved MRS. DALLOWAY and I loved THE HOURS. I think it's a beautiful book, though I don't think it is necessarily meant to be written in the exact "stream of consciousness" style... Read more
Published on Feb. 2 2004 by Totally Anonymous
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