The Hours Paperback – 2 Jan 2003
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The Hours is both a 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 grey 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 an AIDS-related illness. 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 realise:
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 bevelling 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 realise, art belongs to far more than just "the world of objects." --Kerry Fried
‘“The Hours” is a book which heightens the perception of the reader. Cunningham’s craftsmanship is overwhelming.’ Robert Farren, Independent on Sunday
‘An extremely moving, original and memorable novel.’ Hermione Lee, TLS
‘Engrossing, imaginative and humane.’ Richard Francis, Observer
‘“The Hours” refracts the lives of three women through the prism of a single day. Michael Cunningham evokes these three discrete characters with rare skill.’ Financial Times
‘The concept behind the novel is bold, the execution rich with feeling.’ Helen Dunmore, The Times
‘A sensitive marriage of intelligence, integrity and finely textured emotions.’ Sunday Times
‘Cunningham has found an American tone which is exhilaratingly modern – tense, tender and completely without strain.’ GuardianSee all Product description
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Top customer reviews
The great accomplishment of this novel is the way that Cunningham has absolutely captured Virginia Woolf-- her life, her spirit, and her writing style. Had I not known otherwise, I would never have believed that this was written by a man. Her wit, the off-center brilliance of her observations, her malaise and isolation, are all perfectly captured here. But the GENIUS of the story is the way in which her life, and most especially her death, are not made to seem sad, but beautiful and poetic in a way that touches us all. He shows this by linking Woolf in unexpected ways to the lives of two very different women living in different eras. Great literature is transcendant in ways that we rarely appreciate in our day-to-day lives; Cunningham has shown that there can be great poetry and meaning even in shopping, baking, and death.
I needed a book for a school project, a book with enough detail and inspiration to have a basis for an essay. I looked no further than ‘the hours’.
At first I was a bit unsure if it was the right choice but once I started reading I just refused to put it down. This book was by far one of the most inspirational, moving and emotional that I have ever read.
As I read many of the reviews I can see many adults reviewing their best parts of ‘the hours’ and practically writing a whole essay in doing so. But for a book that would blow away a seventeen year old boy, leave him questioning life, leave him out of breath, leave him with a tear on his cheek has to get more than a patronizing “Well done” it deserves more so much more.
If you've read Mrs Dalloway, you'll remember that her first name was Clarissa as well, and that the day covered by the novel sees her planning a party. If (like me) you haven't, it doesn't affect your enjoyment of this story, because there are plenty of internal allusions to keep you busy as you're drawn into the lives of these women. Specific external things such as flowers (buying them, putting them on a cake, using them to adorn a grave) are echoed in each story, but most of the action - if that's the right word - is internalized, as we share their thoughts, feelings and memories. It can be hard to maintain the reader's interest when so much time is spent in the character's heads, but I was hooked by the poetic quality of the writing. Here, for example, are Laura's thoughts as she surprises herself by taking her neighbour Kitty in an embrace that begins as sympathy and ends as something stronger:
"Here is the stout, practical heart that beats beneath; here are the watery lights of her being - deep pink lights, red-gold lights, glittering, unsteady; lights that gather and disperse; here are the depths of Kitty, the heart beneath the heart; the untouchable essence that a man (Ray, of all people!) dreams of, yearns toward, searches for so desperately at night." (p109)
Such striking imagery is handled adeptly in this resonant tale, which contains memorable insights into the nature of love, memory, death and - well, time (as reflected in its title). Highly recommended.
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