The Hours / Michael Cunningham

The Hours opens with a recounting of Virginia Woolf’s last days before her suicide in 1941.  It then moves backwards and forwards.  The reader is transported back to 1923 when Woolf is living in Richmond and writing Mrs. Dalloway.  It also jumps ahead in the twentieth century to tell the stories of two more modern American women.  One is Clarissa Vaughan, a book editor who lives in New York City with her partner Sally during the late 1990s.  When first introduced, she is on the way to buy flowers for a party she is throwing for her close friend, Michael, a poet with AIDS who has just won a major literary prize.  The other is Laura Brown, a housewife living in post-World War II California.  A stay-at-home mother of one and pregnant with her second child, Laura is going a bit mad in a stifling marriage.  As the novel jump-cuts between these three women, Cunningham riffs big time on Mrs. Dalloway  to present “the hours” of a single day in their lifes.  Each chapter contains echoes of Woolf’s book.  It is a bold move for the author to make, ripping off a classic and also creating a fictional Virginia Woolf.  But he succeeds in spades, creating a richly textured work that I found quite moving.  In fact, having read Mrs. Dalloway,  I was more impressed with Cunningham’s novel than I was with Woolf’s presentation of a day in the life.
I also recommend the 2002 movie adaptation of The Hours starring Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, and Julianne Moore.

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