The Hours

The Hours

4.1 179
by Michael Cunningham
     
 

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In The Hours, Michael Cunningham draws inventively on the life and work of Virginia Woolf to tell the story of a group of contemporary characters who are struggling with the conflicting claims of love and inheritance, hope and despair. The novel opens with an evocation of Woolf's last days before her suicide in 1941, and moves to the stories of two modern…  See more details below

Overview

In The Hours, Michael Cunningham draws inventively on the life and work of Virginia Woolf to tell the story of a group of contemporary characters who are struggling with the conflicting claims of love and inheritance, hope and despair. The novel opens with an evocation of Woolf's last days before her suicide in 1941, and moves to the stories of two modern American women who are trying to make rewarding lives for themselves in spite of the demands of friends, lovers, and family. Clarissa Vaughan is a book editor who lives in present-day Greenwich Village; when we meet her, she is buying flowers to display at a party for her friend Richard, an ailing poet who has just won a major literary prize. Laura Brown is a housewife in postwar California who is bringing up her only son and looking for her true life outside of her stifling marriage. With rare ease and assurance, Cunningham makes the two women's lives converge with Virginia Woolf's in an unexpected and heart-breaking way during the party for Richard.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
For readers who want another experience of an author turning a real writer into a fictional character, consider suggesting Cunningham’s multiple-award-winning novel of Virginia Woolf. With astounding skill and grace, Cunningham brings Woolf and her novel Mrs. Dalloway into a new perspective, gifting readers with Woolf’s presence in this shimmering work structured around three women: Clarissa Vaughan who is planning a party in NYC at the end of the 20th century; Woolf herself, in 1923, working on Mrs. Dalloway; and Laura Brown, a 1949 housewife living in Los Angeles who is reading Mrs. Dalloway. With its focus on literature, rich characterizations, beautiful prose, and exquisite management of both plot and pace, Cunningham’s remarkable novel should please Carlene Bauer’s fans.

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

bn.com
The Barnes & Noble Review
The Hours is Michael Cunningham's crystalline meditation on consciousness and identity, drawing on Virginia Woolf's 1925 novel, Mrs. Dalloway -- a postmodern masterpiece whose minimal action takes place on a single June day in postwar London.

The Hours progresses in fuguelike fashion: First we meet Clarissa Vaughan, a New York book editor dubbed "Mrs Dalloway" by her longtime friend and former lover Richard. Next, Cunningham presents Woolf herself, beginning work in 1923 on what is to become Mrs. Dalloway. And finally we are introduced to Laura Brown, a California housewife who is avidly reading Woolf's novel.

Scenes from these three narratives are presented in recurrent identical succession: "Mrs. Dalloway," Mrs. Woolf, Mrs. Brown -- all bristling with connections and startling parallels. The "Mrs. Dalloway" strand is particularly rich, filled as it is with one-to-one correspondences to Woolf's novel. But the deepest and most important thing that The Hours shares with Mrs. Dalloway is "the feeling," as Woolf called it, "that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day." Cunningham's three women proceed through the day, through the hours, trying to keep themselves psychologically intact, like someone carrying a glass of water filled to the brim through a crowd and endeavoring not to spill it. They hesitate before plunging into the day because they know how hard it is to live in the world and remain identical with oneself. And they puzzle over a universal dilemma: how to bring the self into the world without its getting broken in the process. In The Hours, Michael Cunningham has explored this dilemma with an impressive and moving subtlety worthy of his great precursor. Benjamin Kunkel

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
At first blush, the structural and thematic conceits of this novel — three interwoven novellas in varying degrees connected to Virginia Woolf — seem like the stuff of a graduate student's pipe dream: a great idea in the dorm room that betrays a lack of originality. But as soon as one dips into Cunningham's prologue, in which Woolf's suicide is rendered with a precise yet harrowing matter-of-factness ("She hurries from the house, wearing a coat too heavy for the weather. It is 1941. She has left a note for Leonard, and another for Vanessa."), the reader becomes completely entranced. This book more than fulfills the promise of Cunningham's 1990 debut, A Home at the End of the World, while showing that sweep does not necessarily require the sprawl of his second book, Flesh and Blood. In alternating chapters, the three stories unfold: "Mrs. Woolf," about Virginia's own struggle to find an opening for Mrs. Dalloway in 1923; "Mrs. Brown," about one Laura Brown's efforts to escape, somehow, an airless marriage in California in 1949 while, coincidentally, reading Mrs. Dalloway; and "Mrs. Dalloway," which is set in 1990s Greenwich Village and concerns Clarissa Vaughan's preparations for a party for her gay — and dying — friend, Richard, who has nicknamed her Mrs. Dalloway. Cunningham's insightful use of the historical record concerning Woolf in her household outside London in the 1920s is matched by his audacious imagining of her inner life and his equally impressive plunges into the lives of Laura and Clarissa.

The book would have been altogether absorbing had it been linked only thematically. However, Cunningham cleverly manages to pull the stories even more intimately togther in the closing pages. Along the way, rich and beautifully nuanced scenes follow one upon the other: Virginia, tired and weak, irked by the early arrival of headstrong sister Vanessa, her three children and the dead bird they bury in the backyard; Laura's afternoon escape to an L.A. hotel to read for a few hours; Clarissa's anguished witnessing of her friend's suicidal jump down an airshaft, rendered with unforgettable detail. The overall effect of this book is twofold. First, it makes a reader hunger to know all about Woolf, again; readers may be spooked at times, as Woolf's spirit emerges in unexpected ways, but hers is an abiding presence, more about living than dying. Second, and this is the gargantuan accomplishment of this small book, it makes a reader believe in the possibility and depth of a communality based on great literature, literature that has shown people how to live and what to ask of life.

Kirkus Reviews
Steeped in the work and life of Virginia Woolf, Cunningham (Flesh and Blood) offers up a sequel to the work of the great author, complete with her own pathos and brilliance.

Cunningham tells three tales, interweaving them in cunning ways and, after the model of Mrs. Dalloway itself, allowing each only a day in the life of its central character. First comes Woolf herself, in June of 1923 (after a prologue describing her 1941 suicide). In Woolf's day (as in her writings), little "happens," though the profundities are great: Virginia works (on Mrs. Dalloway); her sister Vanessa visits; Virginia holds her madness at bay (just barely); and, over dinner, she convinces husband Leonard to move back to London from suburban Richmond. In the "Mrs. Brown" sections, a young woman named Sally Brown reads the novel Mrs. Dalloway, this in suburban L.A. (in 1949), where Sally has a three-year-old son, is pregnant again, and, preparing her husband's birthday celebration, fights off her own powerful despair.

Finally, and at greatest length, is the present-time day in June of Mrs. Dalloway, this being one Clarissa Vaughan of West 10th Street, New York City, years ago nicknamed Mrs. Dalloway by her then-lover and now-AIDS-victim Richard Brown — who, on this day in June, is to receive a major prize for poetry. Like the original Mrs. Dalloway, this Clarissa is planning a party (for Richard), goes out for flowers, observes the day, sees someone famous, thinks about life, time, the past, and love ("Now she knows: That was the moment, right then. There has been no other"). Much in fact does happen; much is lost, hoped for, feared, sometimes recovered ("It willserve as this afternoon's manifestation of the central mystery itself"), all in gorgeous, Woolfian, shimmering, perfectly-observed prose.

Hardly a false note in an extraordinary carrying on of a true greatness that doubted itself.

From the Publisher

“The overall impression is that of a delicate, triumphant glance, an acknowledgement of Woolf that takes her into Cunningham's own territory, a place of late-century danger but also of treasurable hours.” —Michael Wood, The New York Times Book Review

“An exquisitely written, kaleidoscopic work that anchors a floating postmodern world on pre-modern caissons of love, grief and transcendent longing.” —Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times Book Review

“[Cunningham] has deftly created something original, a trio of richly interwoven tales that alternate with one another chapter by chapter, each of them entering the thoughts of a character as she moves through the small details of a day . . . Cunningham's emulation of such a revered writer as Woolf is courageous, and this is his most mature and masterful work.” —Jameson Currier, The Washington Post Book World

“The triumph of The Hours is that it somehow manages to be both artful and sincere, striking nary a false note . . . And the triumph of the book is no less the triumph of its author. Just when it seemed that it was no longer permissible to pay respect to the literature of the past, Cunningham has done so with an undeniable skill and depth of feeling.” —Justin Cronin, Philadelphia Inquirer

“Rich and beautifully nuanced scenes follow one upon the other . . . [a] gargantuan accomplishment.” —Publishers Weekly (starred, boxed review)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312305062
Publisher:
Picador
Publication date:
10/09/2002
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
240
Product dimensions:
5.56(w) x 8.34(h) x 0.66(d)

Read an Excerpt

In this remarkable book, Cunningham draws inventively on the life and work of Virginia Woolf to tell the story of a group of characters struggling with the conflicting claims of love and inheritance, life and death, creation and destruction. The novel moves along three separate but parallel stories, each focusing on the experiences of a particular woman during the course of one apparently unremarkable but in fact pivotal day.

Clarissa Vaughan, a book editor in present-day Greenwich Village, is organizing a party for her oldest friend, Richard, an AIDS-stricken poet who has just won a major literary prize. Laura Brown, a young wife and mother in 1949 Los Angeles, cares for her toddler and prepares a birthday cake for her husband as she tries to resist increasing waves of panic and feelings of alienation from her humdrum yet demanding life. And Virginia Woolf herself, the third woman, works on her new novel, Mrs. Dalloway, chats with her husband and sister, bickers with her cook, and attempts to come to terms with her deep, ungovernable longings for escape and even for death. As the novel jump-cuts through the century, the lives and stories of the three women converge, stunningly and unexpectedly, the night of Clarissa’s party for Richard.

Meet the Author

Michael Cunningham was raised in Los Angeles and lives in New York City. He is the author of the novels A Home at the End of the World (Picador) and Flesh and Blood. His work has appeared in The New Yorker and Best American Short Stories, and he is the recipient of a Whiting Writer's Award. The Hours was a New York Times Bestseller, and was chosen as a Best Book of 1998 by The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Publishers Weekly.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
New York, New York
Date of Birth:
November 6, 1952
Place of Birth:
Cincinnati, Ohio
Education:
B.A., Stanford University, 1975; M.F.A., University of Iowa, 1980
Website:
http://www.michaelcunninghamwriter.com

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The Hours 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 179 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Michael Cunningham's The Hours is a timeless piece of literary achievement that is deserving of its Pulitzer Prize. He remarkably and cleverly weaves the stories of three different women of three different time periods into one flowing story. There is Virginia Woolf in 1923, and her story is followed as she writes her greatest literary achievement, Mrs. Dalloway. Then, there is Laura Brown, a wife and mother from 1949, who struggles with the confinement of her life and seeks to escape it through reading Mrs. Dalloway. Then finally, there is Clarissa Vaughn, a curious reincarnation of Clarissa Dalloway, who is alive at the end of the twentieth century, and whose story follows the planning of a party for a friend. Each finds herself in an undesired position -one of dissatisfaction. These three stories are soon woven together, depicting each individual's triumphs and sorrows and eventually, the connection all three share, despite the passage of time. The book really gave me something to chew on. For one, Cunningham's depiction of the theme of confinement was certainly interesting. Though each woman is under a very different situation, each feels that they are somehow constrained. What is more interesting is how each woman handles her situation. Another thing that amazed me was Cunningham's ability to highlight the most everyday things, and give them the most expressive descriptions to make them come alive. He is able to portray that life does not just go on, but every waking moment of life is something special. Interestingly enough, he also contrasts that theme with the idea that life is just a fleeting picture. I personally found the book enjoyable. The imagery Michael creates is just stunning, and really brings out the essence of everyday life. At the same time, he is able to manipulate the imagery, syntax, and diction to create a different picture depending on the character. The plot is certainly unique and is very craftily put together. I enjoyed my time reading the book for its literary brilliance. At the same time, I feel that the book was a little over-done at times. While the descriptions certainly add to the life of the book, they do become slightly overwhelming or confusing at times. Also, there are a lot of names to keep track of, making certain parts feel like they're too much to swallow at once. I would recommend this book to those who are looking for a good read and a good piece of literature. After I finished reading, not only was I left wowed, but I was also left with a lot to think about. However, I wouldn't recommend this to someone looking for a climactic plot, or a thriller as this is one of those pieces that is simply done to show the power of the pen. Also, it is better suited toward juniors in high school and beyond, as it features some material that requires some maturity to appreciate. And so, through his great style of writing, Cunningham is able to entice the reader into getting lost in The Hours, much as Laura Brown fell into Mrs. Dalloway.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you've seen the movie and not yet read the book, I would highly recommend Mr. Cunningham's work. The successful transfer of his novel to motion picture says a great deal about David Hare, the man who wrote the screenplay,and did a beautiful job, I must say. The way the movie flows from one era to another is done so masterfully by all who worked to create the motion picture version of this work. Both the novel and screenplay are a 'NOT TO BE MISSED, MUST READ AND SEE'. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND BOTH!
Guest More than 1 year ago
THE HOURS is a book both beautiful and agonizing, portraying human emotion clearly, like a bell rung through a forest: you hear it, you want to run to it, but it is too far away. Lovely.
Anonymous 6 months ago
Well written and a delight to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have given up on this book. The constant unnecessary detail, the unending parenthesis, the look at me and my beautiful writing by the author have turned me off . It may have won awards but it has won my slamming the cover shut, so to speak. Some books flow but this is choked by word count ice.
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lisa1reads More than 1 year ago
This story was unexpected. It's difficult to review this book without giving too much away. Complicated, for me, is the word that best describes a meeting place for these characters; they relate with restraint, with each relationship falling short of a need. This book improves with age, and plays on your mind. I loved it.
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While some parts were sluggish and interuppted the momentum of the story, they were not enough to detract from the beautiful stories that Cunningham effortlessy weaves together. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for an intellectually stimulating read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago