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4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
The Hours
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on 9 December 2001
This book is unworthy of criticism, it is written with sublime beautiful prose and consumes the reader with richly crafted sentences.
It might not change your life but it certainly will make you feel good.
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on 17 April 2000
I am compelled to write an impromptu review, seeing that the only other reviewer saw fit to allow a paltry 2 stars to this elegant gem of a book. I first read The Hours over a year ago, after reading several glowing newspaper and magazine reviews. I was not disappointed. This little novel has really stuck in my mind-- I'm sure I will read it again and again in my lifetime.
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.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 16 November 2010
I picked this up last month and read it after having watched the excellent film adaption. It's a beautifully written story that uses the life (and death) of Virginia Woolf as a starting point - in particular, the moment when she started work on her 1925 novel Mrs Dalloway. The other two main characters are Laura Brown, a young wife and mother in post-WWII Los Angeles who's trying to read that book, and Clarissa Vaughan, a woman in her early fifties living in Greenwich Village who's planning a party for her friend, a prize-winning poet who's dying of AIDS. We're presented with a day in each of these women's lives, and we jump between them over the course of the book.

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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on 15 July 2002
I can only comment on "The Hours" in its own right, not having read Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, but in a sense this might allow me to judge the work more objectively. Whilst I undoubtedly overlook certain intricacies in the plot it is very important to mention that my enjoyment was definitely not limited by not having read "Mrs Dalloway" previously.
In my humble opinion, the novel is extremely cleverly constructed and appears to be the work of an utter perfectionist. Cunningham demonstrates such incredible understanding of the life, time and mind of Virginina Woolf that his historical research was clearly scrupulous. He delves into the very depths of the minds of his female characters in particular; notably those who most seem to mirror Virginia Woolf. He shows an exquisite and very delicate sensitivity to his characters, and you truly sense that he is totally at one with them all, as well as with their differing fictional worlds, each of which seems to be tainted with Virginia's sadness, isolation and reflection, despite the fact that the characters' world seems to overflow with love as well as material comforts.
I found the book a great pleasure to read. It really is a novel within a novel within a novel, and the three parralel plots blur around the edges. The book is all fictional, if based on reality, and yet this is three-level fiction, leading the reader to question who is whose fiction and where the lines between fiction and reality can really be drawn? We are also lead to ponder on when fiction is fantasy and when it is an outsourcing of real anguish, fear and frustration, for Virginia, and even, through Virginia and the other protaganists, for Cunningham himself? It is a multi-layered and highly thought-provoking masterpiece.
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on 16 November 2002
This novel is more than just an homage to Mrs Dalloway, in fact its references to and parallels with that novel at times detract from the emotional force of The Hours. Following a superb account of Woolf's suicide, it examines a day in the life of Woolf herself, during the writing of Mrs Dalloway, of a woman in modern New York whose life parallels Mrs Dalloway's (a little too cutely), and of a woman in post-war L.A. engrossed in reading Mrs Dalloway as she struggles to accept the comforts of happy domesticity.
To fully appreciate The Hours familiarity with Woolf's novel is essential, though an homage alone would be pointless. Cunningham brilliantly, and concisely, presents the lives and concerns - with death, with failure - of his characters in superb prose that echoes without mimicking Woolf's.
If you're not familiar with Mrs Dalloway I strongly urge you to treat yourself to that novel and then follow it with this, a warm, beautiful book.
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on 1 February 2003
I was initially put off by the fact that the book dealt with Virginia Woolf (an author I was unfamiliar with) and resisted reading this until I read some rave reviews. I have read Michael Cunningham's other novels and found The Hours to be among his best work.
I read it in one sitting as I quickly became absorbed in the unusual triangular structure. I found that the 'inner thoughts' of the characters drew me in and at times I found passages in the book very moving. The book is written with such poignancy, gripping the reader right up to its heart-breaking conclusion.
Highly recommended.
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on 24 August 2015
There's one strange thing about this book. It mentions, in the story, a prize it will win (Pulitzer) and the actor who will be the main role in its film (Meryl Streep). That's a bit odd.
It's an interestingly constructed story parallel to the one in Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway. In fact the construction is very similar, different people connected, one day and some events in the past. Mrs Dalloway takes place in a world where nearly everyone is rich, and this one takes place in a world where nearly everyone is gay. I found that juxtaposition a bit odd too.
The characters are so rich in complexity and depth, people worth knowing, and the portrayal of Virginia Woolf takes you inside her mind. Whether accurately I don't know but at least credibly.
The book is excellently well written, Cunningham is very much a craftsman. It's full of psychological insights and a very rewarding read. I'm not exactly in love with it, in fact I thought in some ways the film was a better experience, so four stars, but I do recommend reading this. And if you read it then don't miss Mrs Dalloway. It would be a crime not to read that as well, either before or after this book. I have reviewed that separately.
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on 12 April 2003
This book is more than just a narra tive or a homage to Virginia Woolf. It is a deep and beautiful reflection on the meaning of life itself. I have never read Mrs Dalloway. Maybe if I had I would not have been so impressed but there it is.
What I found really special about this book is the wonderful way it somehow captures all the really important emotions in a kind of snapshot moment.This is illustrated especially well in the scene where Laura Brown Bakes a cake with her little boy. This is the Kind of book where you want to stop now and again to kind of take stock of what your reading and realise quite how special it is. The way the plots come together in the final few chapters is breathtaking and very clever.
The writing style used in this book is very unusual and I think that it works really well. The brave move of writing in the present tense has the effect of making the story much more near, much more real. The language, with out being overly complex conjures up amazingly vivid an beautiful pictures. The pace of the novel although a little slow never drags nor is the book ever boring.
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on 19 May 2011
I usually find the Pulitzer Prize to be a much better indication of quality than the Booker, and this winner from 1999 doesn't alter my opinion. It is an enjoyable read, written in a style reminiscent of Virginia Woolf, whose Mrs Dalloway provides both the inspiration and the theme.

But about halfway through this relatively short book I began to feel there was something lacking - what's the story here? Where's it going? In the end it seems the author wanted to write about the sadness of Virginia Woolf's life and of life in general, and in particular the sadness of death.

Each of the three women (Mrs Woolf being the first) whose lives, at three different periods of the twentieth century, are linked by the novel Mrs Dalloway, feels dissatisfied with her life. Each of them contemplates suicide and the idea of loving another woman. Homosexuality is a major theme here, though not in a way that might put off heterosexual readers.

While initially I thought the writing excellent, after a while I began to find the style repetitive and a little tedious. So not a bad read, but not great.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 31 January 2008
I tried really, really hard to get into this. I did finish it but it was nearly always a chore rather than a pleasure. I was surprised and disappointed, as 1) the film was excellent 2) it's a clever, twisted three strand plot 3) I love the writing of Virginia Woolf and the author here appears to be striving to write in her style.

I just found far too much waiting with bated breath for the significance of life to strike...for the "moment" to reveal itself.

The tedium of the lives of the characters makes the reading tedious.

But in between, there are some wonderful passages: "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, though everyone but children...knows these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult".

A final, probably petty point. He acknowledges twenty people who helped inspire, revise, edit etc the book. Good grief.
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