Sunday, November 25, 2007

BOOK: The Hours by Michael Cunningham

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Pulitzer Winner 1999
Books-to-Movies Challenge

Three parallel lives are followed through a single day in each life: Mrs Brown, a 1950s housewife who is reading Mrs Dalloway; Clarissa, known as Mrs Dalloway who is living the life, in present day New York, from Mrs Dalloway, the novel; and Mrs Woolf, the author who is writing Mrs Dalloway in 1920s England. Hmm, perhaps I should have read Mrs Dalloway first? I'm pretty sure I missed a lot of the symbolism and parallels that connect this book to Mrs Dalloway. While I usually firmly believe in reading the book first, in this case I think the movie would stand alone better than the book. Now I need to see the movie and see if I am right.

Themes of suicide are throughout; the prologue details the author Virginia Woolf's drowning suicide, Mrs Brown is contemplating it as a means of escaping the life she feels trapped in, and Clarissa deals with the death of a friend. I read about other themes and important symbols at the Sparks notes site. This novel will be discussed at Bookawards Yahoo Group during the month of December and I expect to discover some interesting ideas and themes during that discussion.

However, any book of only 225 pages that takes me over a week to read must have some problems. I didn't connect enough with the story and the characters because it was so busy being important, with symbols and parallels. Not to say that I wasn't interested, because I did want to see how all three stories connected in the end and I would like to read Mrs Dalloway, I think, if only to see where this book came from. But overall, this book was just an okay read, nothing wrong, just not a book that I will rave about or remember too much from. I applaud the author's ambition, and with enough prior knowledge and background, I think I would have enjoyed it more. But there was no prerequisite listed on the cover, and I think there should be.


  1. i picked up both The Hours and Mrs. Dalloway from the library recently, so i can read them for the Book Award and Classic Lit Yahoo Groups (respectively). i guess maybe i ought to start with Mrs. Dalloway ... thanks for the review.

  2. alison - Most reviews I've read have loved the book, so I hope I don't influence your opinion. It is supposed to stand alone from Mrs Dalloway, but if you have both, I'd read Mrs Dalloway first. It is an homage afterall.

  3. I did it in reverse, read The Hours first, then Mrs. Dalloway. While I mildly enjoyed both, I did prefer The Hours. And while I was also a little lukewarm about the movie, I still feel it was one of the best adaptations I've ever seen. If that makes sense.

  4. You wrote such a good review. I just thought I'd write to say I love Mrs Dalloway beyond words. I've read it many times, and I think about it often. This is what I wrote in my journal one time:

    This book feels like real life - the way we notice things during a day, and how they remind us of something, and then we think about that for a while. I think Virginia Woolf was the first author to really do this. This is such a good book. Clarissa is about my age, which makes it interesting to me.The last time I read this book, I was in my twenties. I loved it then, but this time it has a greater dimension.


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