11 March 2013

Book Review: The Hours by Michael Cunningham

I got the chance to read this novel after reading Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. Now while I rather hated Virginia Woolf's novel, this one I actually liked. Unfortunately, understanding this novel requires one to be cognizant of Mrs. Dalloway as well, which is why I decided to read it first before reading The Hours.

Anyway, you may have seen the movie which came out ten years ago, which gave Nicole Kidman a Best Actress award, so you might have an idea what this novel is about. Basically, this novel has three storylines, and each storyline happens within one day. In the 1920s, Virginia Woolf is working, preparing to write her newest novel, Mrs. Dalloway. She is visited by her sister Vanessa, and the kids. She has bipolar disorder, and overall, she feels unhappy.

In the post-war 1940s Los Angeles, we meet Laura Brown, a bookworm, who just loves reading Mrs. Dalloway. She is also unhappy, even though she is married and has a kid, and another on the way. She lives in a tract home, and supposedly is living the American dream, but her days are far from being dreams. It is her husband's birthday, and she wants to make a cake, yet somehow, she feels happier just reading her copy of Virginia Woolf.

And finally, in New York in 2000s, we see Clarissa Vaughan, who is the embodiment of Clarissa Dalloway, preparing a party for a friend, just as Virginia Woolf's character was. In fact, what happens during her day is pretty much a translation of what happened in Clarissa Dalloway's life as Virginia Woolf wrote it.

So there, there's three women, all linked together by one book. And Michael Cunningham manages to write something more beautifully and amazing compared to Virginia Woolf's original.

See, The Hours is also a book written in the stream-of-consciousness style. The narrative takes the reader in and out of the character's minds. However, I believe that the characters in this book are more three-dimensional, and there is simply more things happening here, than in Virginia Woolf's version. Looking back, I think I gained more understanding about Mrs. Dalloway by reading The Hours. Virginia Woolf's novel is just too inaccessaible to me, that I needed someone else to interpret it for me to understand it.

So Virginia Woolf might have been a genius, but Michael Cunningham isn't short of talent either. He manages to pack 3 days and 3 women in approximately the same length. And yes, I cannot get over the fact that one book links all three women, this design is simply amazing. I can go on and on about the parallels across these women, how they each shared a Sapphic kiss and didn't mind it at all (why should they), how all are somewhat unhappy with how their lives have turned, and so forth. I think this novel is a study of the human condition, and about how history repeats itself. No matter which generation you're in, chances are there's too little love in this world, and more often than not, people are unhappy with where they are.

Overall, I loved this book, and I am glad that I had the chance to read this. If you truly want to understand this book, I recommend reading Mrs. Dalloway first, then reading this. One will get a whole lot more out of the novel that way. I give it 5 out of 5 stars.

See my other book reviews here.

(Washing Feet, from my Art Institute of Chicago Series)

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