The Hours: A Novel by Michael Cunningham – A Review
You have probably heard of The Hours: A Novel before – either because of the famous 2002 Oscar-winning movie (featuring the wonderful Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Julian Moore), or the original 1998 book that both The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.
Either way, this is one of those novels you should definitely not miss out on because it is excellently written: so sweet, so beautiful and so postmodern that it’s almost inadmissible for a book lover not to have read it. And if you have ever loved Virginia Woolf, consider this novel one of the most stunning tributes to her work.
Michael Cunningham writes about women in this book – and he does it wonderfully, with the same level of understanding and grace Woolf herself did back in her time. There is something very Woolf-esque about the entire book (beyond the actual characters themselves) that will make you think reincarnation is actually possible and that Woolf actually returned to us mortals in the shape of Cunningham.
The book features three main characters, all inspired in one way or another by Virginia Woolf. The first one is Woolf herself as she was writing Mrs. Dalloway. The second one is Mrs. Brown, the wife of a WWI veteran who is reading the same novel. And the third one is Clarissa Vaughan, a modern bisexual woman planning a party for her husband who is ill of a disease related to AIDS. Clarissa is actually a modern version of Mrs. Dalloway herself and if you have read both Woolf’s book and this one, you will understand why the two characters are so intertwined.
Behind the characters themselves, Cunningham also manages to nail a narrative technique that has been coined by Woolf herself and by her fellow generation writer James Joyce – the stream of consciousness. When using this technique, words and thoughts flow very naturally as if there was no actual filter between these thoughts and the actual narrator.
One day is enough to see the life of a person – this is what both Michael Cunningham and Virginia Woolf believed and Mrs. Dalloway, as well as its younger sister, The Hours, are focused precisely on showing just how greatly revealing 24 hours can be when it comes to trying to understand people.
The themes surrounding The Hours are also very much similar to the themes approached by Virginia Woolf herself. Mental illness is one of them and even if Virginia Woolf may not have clearly or explicitly approached this issue, it is definitely dominant of her work and career (as she was known to be bi-polar, alternating mania and depression).
LGBT is another interesting theme approached by Cunningham as well and which is strongly connected to Woolf. Again, Virginia Woolf may not have explicitly mentioned lesbianism in her work, but at a closer look, her interest in exploring sexuality and LGBT matters can become quite obvious.
The Hours is suitable for a lot of readers out there. It can be a marvelous read for anyone who likes Woolf and who “misses” her. It can be a great read for someone interested in exploring mental illness and depression as well. It can be very good for someone who simply loves Meryl Streep, as she does an amazing job at bringing to life Cunningham’s character. Or it can be a good ready for just any woman out there – because, this is a book about womanhood, femininity and slightly about feminism too.