Friday, January 31, 2014

The Hours

Wow! Between work and actually reading these books, the blogging part of Project 84 has really fallen to the wayside. Which is a shame, because one of the aspects of this process I was most looking forward to was sharing my love of reading with the world, and sharing my journey through 84 books. But I haven’t forgotten about you, my awesome readers! In fact, I am making a point to devote more time to the actual blogging part of this blogging project.

With that in mind, Book 6 of Project 84 is:

The Hours

The Hours
By Michael Cunningham

The Hours is one of those books that I’ve been “meaning to read” for a long time. I’m a huge Michael Cunningham fan. I read A Home at the End of the World in high school, and loved it a ridiculous amount. I tell this story a lot – but A Home at the End of the World is one of those books where when I see someone reading it on the subway or train, I’m jealous because they get to experience it for the first time and I don’t.

So I had high hopes for The Hours…and it did not disappoint.

The book follows the lives of three women over the course of one day. The first is Virginia Woolf, who is living in the country and working on writing Mrs. Dalloway. Another is Mrs. Brown, a discontent housewife from the late 40s, who is planning her husband’s birthday party while also stealing away to read Mrs. Dalloway. And the third is Clarissa Vaughan, a lesbian in the early 2000s who is planning a party for her old friend, a literary superstar who is dying from AIDS.

I want to outline more of the plot, but the truth is, there isn’t that much more to the plot – and therein lies the real beauty of this book.

I have read quite a bit of Virginia Woolf in my day. I became a little obsessed with her in high school, and took two classes in college that centered on her work. I have read Mrs. Dalloway, and had a vague understanding that The Hours was “based off that book”, but I had no idea just how much. The narrative of this novel mirrors Mrs. Dalloway in so many ways. In subtle instances – both Mrs. Brown and Clarissa are hosting a party – to more on the nose allusions - Clarissa’s name, of course, and the fact that her partner is named “Sally”. Even the prose, a kind of stream-of-consciousness writing complete with flashbacks, is reminiscent of Mrs. Dalloway and other work of Virginia Woolf.

I could probably go into all the ways The Hours is a sort of bizarro-Mrs. Dalloway (even the title is stolen from the original title of Mrs. D), but this is a review of the book, not a comparison paper, so I will move on. Suffice it to say that I liked the ways that the two works are similar.

The Hours took a little while for me to get into. About 100 pages, actually, which is a lot in a 250 page book. I think I was expecting it to be more like A Home at the End of the World, and when it was more of a Woolf-esque stream of consciousness, it was a bit jarring. I was almost disappointed for the first half of the book – I had expected to tumble into it, and that didn’t happen right away. But, somewhere around page 100, the book grabbed me – and, after that, I was wrecked. I was almost haunted by the narrative, by the subtle truth of what he was saying, and of how these women lived. It was beautiful, and sad, but mostly real and true.

I could wax philosophical of how beautifully Cunningham nailed the struggles of the female experience. The dichotomy of wanting people to approve of you, but also not wanting to get stuck in a hell of your own creation. The realization, as he puts it, that:
“There is something worse than death, with its promise of release and slumber. There is dust rising, endless days, and a hallway that sits and sits, always full of the same brown light and the dank, slightly chemical smell that will do, until something more precise comes along, as the actual odor of age and loss, the end of hope.” – Page 90
I could break down the prose and the narrative. I could comment on the symbolism, and the incomplete male characters that served to fill a void in the lives of these women. But it was how I related to their struggles that I found fascinating. That made me turn the page:
“As she rubs Louis’s back, Clarissa thinks, Take me with you. I want a doomed love. I want streets at night, wind and rain, no one wondering where I am.” – Page 135
I related to all three of them, but they weren’t carbon copies of me. And there was something even more real in that – a realization of a sort of female shared experience, but that we aren’t all the same. In addition, I respected what Cunningham was saying about the Woolfian idea of suicide being almost noble, a release. There is more than one section of the book that focuses on suicide as a reality. And whether or not it was Cunningham’s intention, I couldn’t help but be marked by the selfishness of what suicide is. And I do think that’s at least part of what he was trying to say.

All in all, The Hours was an amazing book. I recommend it to just about everyone – but you have to be prepared for what the book is. It takes a while for it to grab you, but be patient. You’ll be so glad you stuck it out.


I am so glad that I finally sat down to write this post. I wanted to recommend this book so badly, and even if my review got a little stream of consciousness and Woolfian in it’s own right, I’m still really happy with this one.

Next Review: Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard (Expected posting date: Sunday, February 2nd) 

**All annotations refer to this version of The Hours, published by Picador in 2010**

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