shelbystahl, April 2, 2014 (view all comments by shelbystahl)
The Hours by Michael Cunningham is a truly stunning novel. This novel is a connection through space and time of the life and written work of Virginia Woolf. The two main female characters connected to Woolf are Laura Brown and Clarissa Dalloway. The book deals with the strong emotions of contemplating suicide, life-long love, and the complexities of searching for something greater than yourself. Because of these themes, I would recommend this as a mature book for upper-level high schoolers and older. There is an element of sexuality and difficult concepts such as suicide and pure forms of love for another human. Some of these thematic elements would be lost on children who don’t quite yet understand the complexities of the human experience. The prose is also rather eloquent and would be difficult for people who are insufficient readers to grasp. I believe this book to be one of the most beautifully written and perplexing books I have ever read because it forces the reader to reevaluate the meanings of life, love, and death.
This book is written following three different characters in separate locations and times. Virginia Woolf is the first and is introduced in the capturing prologue, sucking the reader in. The prologue tells the story of her suicide in 1941. Her subsequent chapters follow her recent times leading up to her suicide. The character Laura Brown is a caring housewife and mother living in Los Angeles in 1949. The third main character is Clarissa Dalloway who is living in New York City at the end of the twentieth century. Clarissa is a lesbian, but her story follows the implications of a past romance with a man named Richard who is living with AIDS. The themes that this novel deals with are, at times, very philosophical and one has to have the capacity to follow these themes so they can develop as the author intended them to for the impact and meaning of the novel. The reader also has to be willing to jump around to different character storylines. With the character changes every chapter, a reader needs to have a sense of patience. Just know that not every question will be answered right away, but it will tie together eventually. Only with an open mind will a reader have a positive experience with this book.
As I begin reading any novel, I always question why a book has the title it has. Cunningham’s title, The Hours, is revealed to be the perfect fit as characters contemplate the meaning of their life and how time is eternally ticking away. Clarissa Dalloway discovers that “There’s just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we’ve ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) know these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult,” (225). This relates to the eye opening yet very dark theme that there will eventually be an end, maybe one’s soul has had its end before its body has physically ended. The common trend between the characters in this novel is that they all have moments of dissatisfaction in their lives, possibly in their relationships, but something could just be empty as well. However, this theme is attached to a larger moral, that is, to live and love as fully as possible because someone may be dependent on the love you give to him or her. This moral is connected because, “for a moment they are both simply and entirely happy. They are present, right now, and they have managed, somehow, over the course of eighteen years, to continue loving each other. It is enough. At this moment, it is enough” (185). This quote, like many others in this deeply profound novel, is almost so philosophical about the human experience involving love that I can’t fully grasp it! The difficulty of grasping these topics is exactly what Cunningham wants, as evident when he wrote, “Love is deep, a mystery- who wants to understand its every particular?” (143). This novel stretches the mind to levels not yet developed to contemplate the human experience involving life, love, and death.
I believe the book was beautifully written by an author who took care in writing a book that successfully achieved its goal of having the reader be impacted. It is a book with very important ideas to consider and there is heartfelt meaning behind all of these main points the author wanted to show to readers. One aspect that stands out is his use of language. The prose used by the author and the roles of the characters were essential to this novel’s structure. The fact that it follows three main characters separately, but yet ties them all together is critical to the impact of the novel and shows how we are all connected through the human experience because we all go through the cycle of life and death. Cunningham uses language in such a unique way that makes every sentence different in such a beautiful way. At times, it’s surprising how he can take certain words and put them together to make a sentence that’s so unusual that I’m sure it will only ever be said in the pages of his book. There is no doubt in my mind that this book is timeless and can be appreciated by all who read with an open heart.
This book is a must-read because of the new ideas that are presented in an eloquent manner. In The Hours, three women are connected through the human experience of life, love, and death. This book is highly relatable because of these themes, yet so deeply philosophical that it can blow your mind! I would highly recommend this book; it has truly left me marveling over its quality.
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glsmerillo, April 1, 2014 (view all comments by glsmerillo)
Michael Cunningham’s The Hours is a thought provoking novel that revolves around the perceptions of women over time and gender roles. In The Hours, Michael Cunningham creates a common thread between the female character’s daily struggles. The women all deal with the concepts of motherhood, an alternative life they want to live, and death.
The novel is told in three different perspectives. Mrs. Virginia Woolf is a middle aged and accomplished author who lives in a suburb outside of London in the 1920s. She yearns to move back to London but her husband, Leonard, is hesitant to do so because of a mental breakdown she had when they last lived there. She is currently working on a novel that she hopes is her best yet. Mrs. Woolf’s novel is about Mrs. Clarissa Vaughn/Dalloway, an editor who lives in New York in the late 1990s. Mrs. Dalloway (this last name was given to her from her best friend, Richard) deals with society’s perception of a traditional family. She is married to her wife, Sally, and together they raised their daughter, Julia. The reader of this novel, Mrs. Laura Brown is a housewife in Los Angeles in the 1950s. She has a husband who takes good care of her, a son, Richie, and another child on the way. Mrs. Brown struggles with the obligations of motherhood.
The obstacles of the characters intertwine throughout the novel. Motherhood can be applied to the lives of Mrs. Woolf and Mrs. Dalloway, as well as Mrs. Brown’s life. Mrs. Woolf does not have any children but feels that the hole is filled by her nephews and niece of her sister, Vanessa. The perception of women in the 1920s was to get married and have children, but Mrs. Woolf doesn’t fit this description. Mrs. Dalloway is raising her daughter with her wife, a pair that people think goes against the traditions of society. The perception of a “true” family is a husband, a wife, and children. Two women or two men were not adequate to successfully raising a child. Mrs. Brown lives a great life with a husband who works hard to take care of her and a son who looks up to her. However, she is not sure this is what she wants. During the 1950s she is put into the role as being an obedient housewife. The idea of living the life you are dreaming of comes up with each of the characters as well. Mrs. Woolf dreams of living in London again, her happiness, and possibly her peace, is in London. Mrs. Dalloway contemplates her past and the decisions she has made to where she is today. Mrs. Brown dreams of getting rid of her guilt about her obligations as a mother and a housewife. Lastly, death impacted each character’s thoughts or actions. The peaceful death of the bird intrigued Mrs. Woolf and she wondered how it would feel to lay in the bird’s grave herself. Readers are told at the beginning of the novel that Mrs. Woolf commits suicide by weighing herself down with rocks in the river. Mrs. Dalloway deals with the death of a close friend and appears calm during the situation. Mrs. Brown thinks of death because of the route Mrs. Woolf takes to end her life. Motherhood, living an alternative life, and death are themes that pop up throughout The Hours.
There are four prominent symbols in the novel; roses, a cake, and a dead bird. The symbols are objects the characters are hung up on in their sections of the novel. Mrs. Dalloway picks the perfect roses for Richard’s party. The roses will brighten up the room of her apartment. Flowers are seen in traditional homes in magazines, an attempt by Mrs. Dalloway to make her family fit in. Mrs. Brown obsesses over a cake her and her son are making for her husband’s birthday. She wants it to look like a cake from a magazine or a cook book but she finds a flaw in it both times she makes one. A housewife concerns themselves with the cleaning, cooking, and taking care of the children. But these things frustrate Mrs. Brown. Mrs. Woolf takes an interest in a dead bird her nephews and niece found in her yard. She notices how her niece had made a beautiful grave and how she would like to lay in the bird’s grave. The characters channel their thoughts and worries into these objects.
The Hours by Michael Cunningham was, in my opinion, an outstanding book. The descriptive language, imagery, and characterization brought the book to life. I think Cunningham utilized these literary tools to emphasize the obstacles each women faced, the solutions they found were available, but their decisions to take a different route. The perceptions of women did not drastically change as the time periods progressed and you can see this with each of the women’s lives. The end of the novel was mind boggling, with a common thread placed throughout the whole novel that a reader may or may not recognize. I recommend The Hours because it is a novel that has ideas that will stick like glue in a reader’s mind.
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RNJ, January 11, 2010 (view all comments by RNJ)
Michael Cunningham takes the life of the literary icon, Virginia Woolf, and juxtaposes it with Mrs. Dalloway, a Woolf character, as well as a contemporary American woman, Laura. He derives even the title, in part, from Woolf's own work (see epigram). He seems to be a master at balancing or exploring themes in threes, subtly linking the three characters through alternating chapters. The Hours brings to fruition topics or motifs he has explored in his first two novels--a sign that Cunningham has so much to say, he can't do it all in one work. The image of a woman working toward the baking of "perfect" cake is used in his second novel, Flesh and Blood, but in the Hours its use may be more poignant. Mrs. Brown "wants to have produced a cake that banishes sorrow, even if only for a little while. She wants to have produced something marvelous, something that would be marvelous even to those who do not love her." In this passage and throughout the novel, Cunningham's prose rivals that of his subject: strong yet delicate. The Hours is a novel that will resonate with the reader for a long time, begging to be read again and again, and the reader will comply, happily.
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CreamyPeach08, May 2, 2008 (view all comments by CreamyPeach08)
"Many Angles to a Universal Struggle"
Many people struggle to find their places within society, and a plethora of literature explains the concept of one's duty within it. Michael Cunningham takes a new angle in The Hours as three women navigate a day in each of their lives and struggle with their roles in society. Virginia Woolf struggles with mental sanity and depression in the England of 1923. One day in 1949, Laura Brown questions her patriotic marriage to a veteran and duty to create the perfect home in Los Angeles. Finally, Clarissa Vaughan faces alienation as a homosexual “society wife” in the late twentieth-century New York City and wrestles with a lost heterosexual romance. First published in the United States in 1998, The Hours received the Pulitzer Prize as Cunningham effectively portrays the struggle women face when finding their places in society. He writes about the feminine thought process with surprising detail and accuracy, and he thus provides a portrait of a common female dilemma.
The structure of The Hours highlights the pressure women face. After the prologue, it is divided into sections rotating between “Mrs. Dalloway”, “Mrs. Woolf”, and “Mrs. Brown.” The designation of the characters as Mrs. Someone highlights their “proper” place in their lives. This contrasts Laura and Virginia's desires and brings irony to Clarissa's homosexual lifestyle. Before the women handle the pressure in varying ways, the reader learns that Virginia Woolf commits suicide in the revealing prologue. This revelation is not discussed in one of Mrs. Woolf's sections in The Hours, but the novel’s conclusion relates to the prologue. The prologue ends with a mother, child, truck, and soldiers crossing the bridge above Virginia's body in the bottom of a riverbed, as “[Virginia's] face, pressed sideways to the piling, absorbs it all: the truck and the soldiers, the mother and the child” (8). The continuation of life, even after a tragic event, ties the beginning of The Hours to the end of the novel in a seamless, thematic, and unique fashion.
Cunningham's use of three distinct situations provides varying perspectives of the female battle between duty and individuality, and this brings universality to the concept of belonging. As the women's reactions to social pressure range from defeat, endurance, and defiance, the reader sees that women have “another hour before [them]” (226). Thus, life continues in a forward direction, and each hour is important in that motion. Cunningham's ability to develop each story independently while universally tying them together is truly beautiful. More astounding is his ability to capture how the women feel and act in a third person narration without hinting as to what each one should do. Instead, the narrator objectively reveals the internal struggle in the woman who is the focal point. The omission of direct instruction provides the narrator with credibility in relating the thoughts of each woman.
A variety of sentence structures and symbols create a personal, revealing nature in The Hours. Complex-compound sentences, simple sentences, and everything in between are used to follow the character's thoughts. Informal diction allows the average person to follow conversations and garner meaning from his work. Although Cunningham writes in third person, the protagonists' thoughts and emotions drive the narration. Similarly, the women give value to certain items in their lives, and these items become Cunningham's symbols. In this manner, regardless of Cunningham's third person narrative, the reader is lost in the women's minds, and Cunningham brings uncommon feeling of stream-of-consciousness narration into The Hours.
Michael Cunningham's The Hours beautifully addresses three women's struggle between duty and independence, between societal obligations and desires. Virginia Woolf, Laura Brown, and Clarissa Vaughan confront this conflict from different positions, and they each have different responses. As the variety allows readers to connect with the novel, each story creatively intertwines, and one sees the continuation of life. The use of narration, symbols and diction also bring the novel to life. The Hours describes one day in the lives of three women, but countless people also struggle to find a place in society. Cunningham's portrait of a universal theme provides originality to a topic often covered in literature.
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minerva_86, April 26, 2006 (view all comments by minerva_86)
I cannot believe this novel hasn't been commented on yet. I read the book after seeing the film and have to say that i found the novel so much more personal. It's so beautifully written and so deserving of its many accolades. The idea of it is so simple, but would have been tricky to execute well. Michael Cunningham however has pulled it off wonderfully.
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Picador USA -
by Kirkus Reviews,
"Steeped in the work and life of Virginia Woolf, Cunningham offers up a sequel to the work of the great author, complete with her own pathos and brilliance....[G]orgeous, Woolfian, shimmering, perfectly-observed prose. Hardly a false note in an extraordinary carrying on of a true greatness that doubted itself."
by Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair,
"Inspired....Michael Cunningham dazzles."
by Publishers Weekly,
"At first blush, the structural and thematic conceits of this novel...seem like the stuff of a graduate student's pipe dream....[But] the reader becomes completely entranced....[T]he gargantuan accomplishment of this small book [is that] 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."
by Michael Wood, The New York Times Book Review,
"A delicate, triumphant glance....A place of late-century danger but also of treasurable hours."
by Ann Prichard, USA Today,
"Michael Cunningham's novel The Hours is that rare combination: a smashing literary tour de force and an utterly invigorating reading experience. If this book does not make you jump up from the sofa, looking at life and literature in new ways, check to see if you have a pulse."
by Georgia Jones-Davis, Salon.com,
"The Hours is a feat of literary acrobatics, yet in the end does not affect us as profoundly as Mrs. Dalloway. The Hours is a variation on a theme, and it's the original melody rather than the contemporary arrangement that's most memorable....Cunningham's writing has a luminous quality....Pulling off this clever literary accomplishment shows us that the talented Michael Cunningham isn't at all afraid of Virginia Woolf."
by Book Magazine,
"[A] glittering work of exquisite detail and refined vision..."
by Richard Eder, The Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review,
"[Cunningham] has fashioned a fictional instrument of intricacy and remarkable beauty. It is a kaleidoscope whose four shining and utterly unlike pieces — the lives of two fictional characters, of a real writer, and her novel — combine, separate and tumble in continually shifting and startlingly suggestive patterns."
by Jameson Currier, The Washington Post Book World,
"[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."
"With an intimacy only another writer could muster, Cunningham portrayed the act of creation as a heroic and dangerous adventure...a contemporary masterpiece."
The author of "Flesh and Blood" draws inventively on the life and work of Virginia Woolf to tell the story of a group of contemporary characters struggling with the conflicting claims of love and inheritance, hope and despair. Soon to be a major motion picture starring Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman.
A daring, deeply affecting third novel by the author of A Home at the End of the World and Flesh and Blood.
In The Hours, Michael Cunningham, widely praised as one of the most gifted writers of his generation, draws inventively on the life and work of Virginia Woolf to tell the story of a group of contemporary characters struggling with the conflicting claims of love and inheritance, hope and despair. The narrative of Woolf's last days before her suicide early in World War II counterpoints the fictional stories of Richard, a famous poet whose life has been shadowed by his talented and troubled mother, and his lifelong friend Clarissa, who strives to forge a balanced and rewarding life in spite of the demands of friends, lovers, and family.
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