Monday, February 16, 2009

Book #12: 'The Hours' by Michael Cunningham

From now on it'll be the 5 reviews for the 5K Marathon. Already have one book read, am halfway through another!

'The Hours' is a Pulitzer Prize-Winning novel about three women living in three different eras. The first is Virginia Woolf, living in an isolated house in Richmond, England, as she starts to write what would be her last novel, "Mrs Dalloway". The second is a housewife in the 50s named Laura Brown, whom we are first introduced to as she reads "Mrs Dalloway". The third is Clarissa Vaughan, living in modern-day New York City, who starts the day the same was as the title character in Woolf's novel; by going out to buy flowers for a party.

The book follows the three women through the course of a day, as they go through their lives in vastly different circumstances and eras but very similar circumstances. All three are settled into their lives, outwardly accepting of the roles they have taken, but internally battling against what has become of their lives. Woolf battles sickness and impending depression, while trying hard to act outwardly normal so she will be allowed to return to her life in London. Laura has the idyllic suburban lifestyle of the 50s; a comfortable home, a loving husband and a young son, but feels trapped and profoundly unhappy for reason she can't quite understand. Clarissa is a wealthy New York society woman, with a loving partner and a very comfortable lifestyle, but she is worried about becoming older and whether she fits into the world she lives in, all while taking care of a dying poet, Richard. The three women are loved and cared for by devoted men and women, but they all want something more, they live their lives dreaming of the past or what could be or would have been, and Cunningham does an impressive job of taking us inside each of the minds of these women. They're each complex, beautifully written characters, and Cunningham subtly and expertly brings their stories together through small details and large plot points.

It's a great book, but maybe not for everyone. The writing is beautiful but can sometimes be almost rambling, with every object the women see being contemplated and thought about. I loved the small asides, as they were realistic to how a person's mind works (anything can trigger a memory or a chain of thought), but it might try some readers' patience. It's a short book, but not one you can really get through quickly. It's thoughtful and moving, absolutely character-driven and so might not be to some people's tastes. I'd highly recommend it if you need something slower and emotional, though it can get a little sad at times. But it’s a seriously great work, and I'd really love to read more of Cunningham's work.

1 comment:

Nicole said...

I wanted to love this book, I really did. I appreciated that Cunningham used the stream of consciousness technique to mirror Woolf's writing style - the woman helped invent the concept, after all - but overall I just couldn't get into it or drum up much empathy for the characters. Nice review, Figgalicious!