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.