- Hardcover: 230 pages
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (Nov. 11 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374172897
- ISBN-13: 978-0374172893
- Product Dimensions: 14.7 x 2.5 x 21.8 cm
- Shipping Weight: 363 g
- Average Customer Review: 483 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #296,864 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Hours: A Novel Hardcover – Nov 11 1998
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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
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.
Top customer reviews
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.
Cunningham stands on the shoulders of the person who I believe is the greatest literary giant of all time. Miraculously, and, perhaps more clearly and concisely than the giant herself and her umpteen biographers, successfully sorts out the difficult layers and issues in her writing (at various times, one feels sure her main purpose is to write about the creative process, at others, the nature of gender and sex, patriarchy, biography, politics, economics, celebrity, or philosophy), making them newly relevent in the present age.
Cunningham's Mrs. Brown asks herself, how...could someone who was able to write...like that...come to kill herself? He addresses the theme of despair in Woolf's books and life, which is often over-emphasized by critics. Cunningham reminds us that although Woolf took her own life, the ultimate purpose of her art was a celebration of life, love, and happiness in the midst of a heavy, chaotic, and massive world. Cunningham, as if working and communicating with Woolf directly, helps us to see as we enter the new century that headache, sorrow, regret, and their very stark contrast to joy, are essential to human life--that without the depths of despair, we have no joy, we have nothing. And with all joy and happiness and no sorrow, we become numb to the simple good fortune of being alive.
What more appropriate homage could be paid to Virginia Woolf, who changed the world in subtle and profound ways? I am so grateful to Cunningham for reviving Woolf so vividly, almost as though he earned the Pulitzer Prize for her. If only she could see that a man has done it! I believe that his purpose in writing this book was to share Woolf with the world again, to remind us that her insight into the human soul, and life's mysteries, are life-changing, and that by distilling her essential wisdom clearly and reverently, he created a small, beautiful, accessible package. I and others who are so moved can pass this on to as many people as possible, as an open door to the often overwhelming and dense but transcendent Virginia Woolf. I am thrilled. No book has ever moved me to get up at 2:30 a.m. to write a review. This book makes me want to celebrate Woolf's ability to articulate emotions that I and possibly millions of ordinary people feel in a given day; the emergence of a new author whose every new book I can now await with anticipation; the knowledge that I am not the only person in the world to call Woolf the most influential thinker in my life; and finally, the simple joy in my day-to-day existence. The most wonderful aspect of the book is that it stands on the shoulder of a giant so successfully, tearing down my initial skepticism within minutes, reverberating finally with liberating revelation for the ordinary and extraordinary people of our day.
I will give this book on every gift-giving occasion this year!
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