Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Hours by Michael Cunningham



This is a book for the A to Z challenge as well as a Pulitzer Prize winner so I'm using it for the Book Awards Reading Challenge. I've read so much about this one on various blogs that I had to give it a read.

It is the story of three women in three different time periods; Virginia Woolf as she's writing Mrs. Dalloway (which is a book I highly recommend), Clarissa Vaughan as she's planning a party for a friend dying of AIDS, and Laura Brown, a suburban 1950s housewife. Cunningham interweaves the three stories in alternating chapters. I read Mrs. Kimble for the Book Awards Reading Challenge. It is also the story of three women yet their lives are intertwined with a shared husband, and they do interact in the book. The women in this book live in different times and places. Yet, Cunningham is able to make them seem remarkable similar.

Strengths of The Hours: The fact that he was able to make me care about these three very different women in only 200 pages is amazing. He basically told the story of one momentous day in each of their lives. I say momentous because it is dramatic in one story but less so, outwardly, in the others. There was a sense of depression and desperation running through the three stories yet I felt the most positive about Clarissa, even though her story is the most obviously tragic. Cunningham was able to give her a strength that was lacking in the other two. I felt quite depressed at the sameness between the state of Virginia and Laura. It was especially interesting to see how Cunningham made it clear that they were, in some way, beholden to, or controlled by, the men in their lives. Each experienced a true sense of despair in life. I can't say I enjoyed this part of the story, but it did make me think and reflect. Maybe that's the point.

Weaknesses of The Hours: This may be a very personal response to the story - and quite secondary to its power, but I had trouble with Richard. He is the poet and writer in Clarissa's life who is dying of AIDS. It is probably the fact that Cunningham choose to give him AIDS that affected me. The chapters that featured him were quite difficult to read because I have lost friends to AIDS, and it truly is a horrible disease. I wonder if I would have felt the same way if it had been a different disease. I'm sure this is not an issue for others - like I said, this is a very personal point of view.

Overall, I'd give The Hours 4 stars out of 5. I almost gave it 5, but I'm trying to hold my 5 stars for books that truly blow me away in every way. It was make into a movie with Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep which I haven't seen. I've heard mixed things about it, but I'm adding it to my Netflix list because I'm curious. Let me know if you've read this one and have an opinion, or if you've seen the movie.

11 comments:

Literary Feline said...

A great review! I recently won a copy of this book in a drawing and am looking forward to reading it. Then I may get around to reading the movie. I was actually only interested in reading this one recently, I admit. I think all the hype scared me away for awhile.

Chain Reader said...

I enjoyed this book more than Mrs. Dalloway, its inspiration. I haven't seen the movie, either.

Anonymous said...

You know, with as much as you read, I'd imagine you could save some dough on books the same way you save money with your Netflix account, by checking out BookSwim.com. Same basic concept: no due dates, no late fees, free shipping, manage your online book pool, etc. Worth checking out.

Oh, and I saw the movie. It's goooood.

Nyssaneala said...

I enjoyed The Hours as well, and particularly liked Clarissa. Great review!

BookGal said...

Literary - I agree. It scared me for awhile too. It was actually a quick read.

Chain - Interesting. I read Mrs. Dalloway about 10 years ago so I can't really compare.

Anonymous - Thanks for the tip.

Nyssaneala - Clarissa was my favorite too.

John Mutford said...

I only somewhat enjoyed the book and movie, but I will say that I was impressed with how well they adapted it. The book was so interpersonal, I had no idea how they'd pull it off without losing something, yet surprisingly I don't think they did.

Trish said...

I did a research paper on Mrs. Dalloway as an undergrad, so this book spoke to me in a couple of different ways. I thought Cunningham wrote the female perspective very well--and like you I was drawn into the lives of these very different women.

I did see the movie--and the movie is never as good as the book, but the acting is pretty good (as should be expected from the stellar cast).

About a month or so ago I read another of Cunningham's books--Flesh and Blood and didn't like it as much, but saw many of the same themes--including AIDS. It makes me wonder if it has affected his life in some way.

Anyway, glad you liked this book!

BookGal said...

John - I think the movie sounds interesting.

Trish - I didn't even know he wrote any other books. I wonder if that one is set in the 1980s - that might explain the AIDS link.

Trish said...

Flesh and Blood is kind of an epic sweep--starting in the 1950s and going to the present. I believe the character got AIDS more from needles than sex, though--and she certainly wasn't gay. He has a couple other books, but I haven't read any of them.

Anonymous said...

I still havent gotten around to seeing or reading The Hours. I hope it's as good as everyone sais it is. I went and got a payday loan so I can catch up on it.

Toryssa said...

I liked the authors style and the idea of the novel a whole lot more than I liked the actual novel itself. I'm not sure that that makes a whole lot of sense, but there you go.

You can read my entire "review" here: http://toryssa.com/booklog/2006/06/12/the-hours-michael-cunningham/