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The Hours, Michael Cunningham

The Hours focuses on three women: Virginia Woolf, the author of Mrs. Dalloway, which this book plays with; Laura Brown, a young housewife who is reading Mrs Dalloway and struggling with her too-perfect and not-perfect-enough home life; and Clarissa Vaughan, who is living a sort of 20th century version of Clarissa Dalloway’s life.  Cunningham switches between chapters and at the end, manages to make them all come together in this dream of a literary novel.

Okay, I’ll also be honest that I’m a little prejudiced here.  I love Mrs. Dalloway.  I’ve read it twice and I plan on reading it many more times.  I love the way Virginia Woolf reflects the human consciousness, how everyone gets distracted by certain things, and how she can flit from person to person, all while maintaining a beautiful prose style and never getting the reader confused.  I love that the entire novel fits in one day, but reflects on the enormity that can happen in just that one day, in so many people’s lives.

So, how could I not love The Hours?  The answer is, there is no way, because I did love this novel.  Cunningham plays with the storylines in a way that makes them richer, impossible as that is to imagine.   He takes Woolf’s style and spreads it over several lives, paying homage to her work and making something entirely new of his own out of it.  We can experience Woolf’s struggle between depression and genius, then flip a page and read his 20th century interpretation of the story, and then flip another page and experience how a book can change lives forever (albeit an extreme example).  And then I adored the way the storylines came together at the end.  I thought this book was pure brilliance.  Moreover, not only does he do all this, but he manages to get across essential, beautiful messages about the transitory nature of life and what we’re all about that really touched me.

This book has won at least two awards, one of which is the Pulitzer prize.  It also won the PEN/Faulkner award.   I’m not surprised, because it is excellent.  The literature student in me adores this book.  I don’t know why I waited so long to read it!  I’m going to recommend it to everyone I know – but only if they’ve read and liked Mrs. Dalloway.  They would miss too much otherwise. Buy this book on Amazon.

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7 comments to The Hours, Michael Cunningham

  • Actually it can be enjoyed on one level at least by someone who hasn’t read Mrs D – my OH enjoyed the book as much as I did.

    I hated the film though!

  • Hi there! I forget how I found this site – link after link after link – but I just wanted to agree with LyzzyBee – I’ve not finished Mrs Dalloway yet (someday), but genuinely enjoyed The Hours, both times. And I’ll probably read it again too!

  • Meghan

    It’s awesome that people do enjoy it without reading Mrs. Dalloway! From other reviews, it seemed like it would be a struggle, but I’m glad, this book deserves to be appreciated. =)

  • Ali

    My sister, who isn’t much of a fiction reader, read this book because she loved the movie–and reading it inspired her to read Mrs. Dalloway. I, on the other hand, have adored every other book by Cunningham, but wasn’t able to get into The Hours. I never do well when I see the movie first!

  • I’m with Ali – I made the mistake of seeing the movie first (I SO rarely do that!), and then I wasn’t able to get into (enjoy?) the book. That was several years ago, though; your review is so compelling that I may be inspired to try it again.

  • Thanks for the great review! Too Shy to Stop actually just ran an article about Michael Cunningham’s recent visit to the University of Maryland. You can read the article here.

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