Review: The Hours by Michael Cunningham

108. The Hours by Michael Cunningham
Publication: Picador (November 1, 2002) originally published 1998, Paperback, 219pp / ISBN 0312305060
Genre: Fiction
Rating:
Read: April 27, 2010
Source: Borrowed
Summary from Amazon:

The Hours is the story of three women: Clarissa Vaughan, a beloved friend of ailing poet Richard Brown, who one fine New York morning goes about planning a party in his honor; Laura Brown, who in a 1950s Los Angeles suburb slowly begins to feel the constraints of a perfect family and home; and Virginia Woolf, recuperating with her husband in a London suburb, and beginning to write Mrs. Dalloway. By the end of the novel, the stories intertwine in remarkable ways, and finally come together in an act of subtle and haunting grace.

Review

This was the last book we read for my Virginia Woolf class last semester, and unfortunately when I started reading I was feeling pretty hostile. I had seen the movie previously and was bored to death, and furthermore I was all “someone’s trying to out-Woolf Virginia Woolf?!” which was silly but nevertheless how I felt. I almost didn’t want to read it, that’s how much antipathy I had towards The Hours.

Actually forcing myself to read The Hours, however, proved to be the correct course of action, not only because I had to write an essay about it, and writing about something I haven’t read isn’t a skill I’ve developed over the course of my schooling, but also because in reality it’s not really a book you can be hostile towards. The movie might have sucked, but the book doesn’t! It’s a really novel, and instead of being a copycat of VW’s books it’s really more of an homage. A really sweet homage, that not only pays attention to the author’s work but also to the author herself, and by the end I found myself falling in love with The Hours.

It’s not a perfect book. Some plot points didn’t really work for me, and I didn’t like the blatant rewriting of Mrs. Dalloway— felt too…obvious? Too much like a “look how it applies to today’s life stories, too!” thing. Something like that, anyway. And then also putting in direct quotes from Mrs. Dalloway! C’mon, that’s lazy. Mr Cunningham is a good writer, but sometime it felt like he was taking shortcuts.

On the other side of things, though, I could really tell how much he liked Virginia Woolf’s books, and how much he admired her and her writing. And that made me like him and his book, and so even if I didn’t like everything in The Hours I still really liked it as a whole work. If you’ve never read it yourself I would first recommend reading Mrs. Dalloway, because having a solid idea of what it’s about would help a lot when you read The Hours. And then you should watch the movie if you want, because I swear if you watch the movie first and then read the book all you’ll be able to see is Nicole Kidman’s stupid fake nose in place of Virginia Woolf, and Meryl Streep’s pinched mouth in place of Clarissa. And that makes for some difficult reading, if you don’t like either of those things. (Nobody else bugged me as much as those two did.)

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4 thoughts on “Review: The Hours by Michael Cunningham”

  1. I was really impressed that Cunningham wrote women so well. The 1950’s story reminded me a lot of Doris Lessing To Room 19. Do you know that one?

  2. The movie chagrined my dazzle by being made out of sadness, so I never read the book. Perhaps I should? But you are right, I think of Nicole Kidman’s nose every time I think of Virginia Woolf – only because everyone made such a fuss about it at the time!

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