Michael Cunningham’s engrossing and compelling, Pulitzer Prize winning novel intertwines the stories of three women over the course of one day. The women are linked by Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs Dalloway: Virginia Woolf wakes from a dream in London 1923 and is inspired to begin writing Mrs Dalloway; pregnant and unsettled housewife Laura Brown in 1940s Los Angeles is desperate to spend her day reading Woolf’s novel; and in 1990s New York Clarissa Vaughan, known as Mrs Dalloway, runs errands before she throws a party for her friend, who is dying of Aids and has won a literary award.
Throughout the novel Cunningham draws on the life and writing of Virginia Woolf and it is clear from the outset that his novel pays homage to Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway – ‘The Hours’ being her original title. Cunningham echoes Woolf’s style in his own writing, capturing her observations, descriptions and writing style impeccably. You don’t have to have read Woolf’s novel to appreciate The Hours, but doing so makes you aware of the subtle hints, references and parallels between the two novels, adding another dimension to both. Despite being replete with these references, The Hours can, and deserves to be, read in its own right. Cunningham’s writing is elegant, poetic and perceptive; he gives trivialities importance through his evocative descriptions.
…a beautifully written, insightful and moving novel…
The depiction of Woolf’s suicide in the prologue is vividly descriptive, thought-provoking and poignant. It is set 16 years after Woolf begins writing Mrs Dalloway in The Hours, making it at first seem an unnecessary inclusion. However, it gives an ominous feeling to what follows and further links the women’s lives.
I found that of the three women Cunningham portrays, I wasn’t as drawn to Laura Brown as I was to the other characters and her story didn’t engross me. This doesn’t detract from the brilliance of Cunningham’s depiction of the bleakness, sadness and despair in these sections. He links the three women through the mirroring of their actions and thoughts across the chapters, highlighting the timeless quality of Woolf’s novel and the similarities between women across the eras. However it is at first unclear how, apart from reading the novel Woolf is writing, Laura Brown is connected. The ending provides this symmetry with an unexpected revelation offering a more solid link between them.
Overall, The Hours by Michael Cunningham is a beautifully written, insightful and moving novel which leaves a lasting impression. It’s a novel, like Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, I wouldn’t hesitate to read again.