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The Hours by Michael Cunningham

The Hours

by Michael Cunningham

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
9,290150323 (3.93)395
  1. 111
    Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (twomoredays, TammyWright)
    twomoredays: If you don't read Mrs. Dalloway before The Hours, I suspect it wouldn't be nearly as fulfilling a reading experience.
    TammyWright: It gives you a much fuller appreciation of what Cunningham accomplished with his wonderful novel, "The Hours."
  2. 21
    Five Bells by Gail Jones (fountainoverflows)
  3. 10
    Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: And Other Poems by T. S. Eliot (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: Cunningham is constantly referencing Prufrock. If you haven't read it, you should
  4. 11
    John Cheever: Collected Stories and Other Writings (Library of America, No. 188) by John Cheever (Cecilturtle)
  5. 01
    Ohio Angels by Harriet Scott Chessman (Miels)

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English (141)  Dutch (3)  German (1)  Swedish (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Spanish (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (149)
Showing 1-5 of 141 (next | show all)
If you love dark gloomy books about depressed people and their struggles to get through a single day, you'll love this book. I didn't. ( )
  aulsmith | Jul 16, 2014 |
Omg. This is definitely the type of book I have been looking for for awhile. It's one that makes me think. It's worth reading, but only really if you've read Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf first.

I may suck at writing reviews. But this is a "To Read" if you haven't already. ( )
  csweder | Jul 8, 2014 |
Omg. This is definitely the type of book I have been looking for for awhile. It's one that makes me think. It's worth reading, but only really if you've read Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf first.

I may suck at writing reviews. But this is a "To Read" if you haven't already. ( )
  csweder | Jul 8, 2014 |
Original post at Book Rhapsody.



My original copy of this book was bought by my cousin at a book store in Tokyo. I immediately read it as soon as I got it. But a few years later, termites destroyed it. Maybe those pests are into Japanese cuisine?

Anyway, ever since this book started to appear in secondhand book stores, I developed this urge to buy each copy. I bought a number and gave them all to my friends. And they wouldn’t disappear from those book stores. I had the sense to control my urge.

I don’t know, but I really like this book. It’s a short, smart, and sensible book. Always the love, always the years, always the hours.

Bam! I think I am quoting from the movie, but what the hey, it’s one of my favorites.

The Rhapsody

We have three women to worry about: Mrs. Woolf, Mrs. Brown, and Mrs. Dalloway. The writer, the reader, and the character, respectively. The distant past, the not so distant past, and the present. And yes, we are talking about Virginia Woolf the writer here. And her novel Mrs. Dalloway.

So there’s this one fine day in Mrs. Dalloway’s life where she’s out buying flowers and preparing things for a party. Simple huh? Mixing in Mrs. Woolf who’s writing the novel of Mrs. Dalloway’s life adds some interest. Then adding Mrs. Brown reading the novel years after its publication sort of complicates things.

Synchronicity? Yes. Whatever happens to each woman happens to the other two. Each of the women receives a bunch of yellow flowers. Each of the women kisses with another woman. And other stuff in between that I cannot recall.

One is prone to think that this is a pretentious work, but I found it to be poignant and easy to understand. One is not required to read Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway first before getting his hands on it. But I assure you that you will have an interest to do so right after.

And then there’s the poet. I am always fascinated with characters in a novel who are poets. I am more or less drawn to them for an unexplained reason. I am no poet in the sense that I am wordy. I guess I am substantially a poet. But I am digressing.

Mrs. Woolf doesn’t know what to do with the poet. She decides to kill him. The poet will die.

Mrs. Dalloway’s friend for whom she is throwing a party jumps off his window. No party for everyone. The poet is dead.

Mrs. Brown appears to Mrs. Dalloway just after his friend’s death. She is the mother who abandoned him when he was still a child. The poet has been dying all along.

Argh! Really smart. Not too connived, yet very surprising at times that you might catch yourself backtracking the pages just to make sure that you read things right.

Final Notes

I also watched the movie adaptation of this novel with the same title, which won Nicole Kidman her first Academy Award for playing the role of Virginia Woolf. I was not disappointed with the film, but I just felt that the screen time is too short, that things were rushed, that emotions were not allowed to settle firmly on the viewer.

And that is one big advantage that books have over movies. In fact, I don’t think there will ever be a movie that could substitute for a book. Some people might say that it’s the same banana.

But those people are dumb. It isn’t the same banana. I pity them, but is it still my problem if they are incapable of appreciating each hour spent in reading?

My advice to them? Learn to read. ( )
  angusmiranda | Jun 10, 2014 |
Tragic but tender: Views on the Prologue to 'The Hours' by Michael Cunningham
(Review by Ramon Loyola)

Women in literature—the ones pushing pen onto paper and those who live in the imaginarium and fictional vessels of many a writer—have enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, the fascination inherent in the scrutiny of words and styles by numerous other writers and critics.

For a keen reader, however, it is nothing but a wondrous moment to stumble on a literary work on the life and death of one of the most fascinating female modernist writers, Virginia Woolf, such as that felt in reading the novel, 'The Hours', by Michael Cunningham.

It is even more interesting to note that Cunningham chose to write about a leading female author whose infamy and literary impact transcend genres and generate accessibility of material and inspiration that are easily translatable into other popular, visual or critical mediums. Cunningham manages to achieve the convergence of various elements and styles of discourse and storytelling in the fictional depiction of Woolf’s demise, her stature and dignity as a female and a writer (and a female writer), her writings and the vividness of the characters within, and the impact of such characters on the reader.

The reader’s interest is even more heightened upon reading the prologue to the novel, as if Cunningham is inviting the reader to delve deeper into the brilliant mind of Woolf, her motivations and longings in the face of mental illness and her own existential dilemma.

It would have been easy, even safe, to start the novel with the usual narrative of who she is, what she does, where she lives, how she works, and why she does all these; but Cunningham creates in the prologue a single and simple, and yet, perhaps, the most effective “hook” to his story--Woolf’s act of self-destruction.

For most readers of popular fiction, and for one whose main staple of books is limited to the inanities of 'Dear John' and 'Twilight' (or, worse, of Jackie Collins’ scandal-ridden sagas), Woolf has always been known as a tragic figure of the literary world, whose own brilliance couldn’t save her from the thought of self-annihilation. Indeed, in any game of trivial pursuit, or during drunken trivia nights at the pub, the perpetual clue given out for her name almost always goes: “She’s a legend of the literary world, whose works include 'Mrs Dalloway' and 'To The Lighthouse', and who is too dumb to realise her talent that she is driven to suicide. Or maybe, she’s just depressed, as all writers tend to be. Who is she?”

It is this same trivia that Cunningham has deftly used to open 'The Hours' with, which is nothing short of simple but perfected design.

By depicting Woolf’s final moments in the prologue, Cunningham manages (consciously?) to capitalise on the one single knowledge by everyone else--the one simple truth--about Woolf, and thereby to somehow convert the devastation of the climax to its opposite. In getting that matter “out of the way”, the reader is then cajoled to finally press on beyond the prologue and understand the reasons behind Woolf’s actions, with the view to perhaps effecting a reassurance, an antithesis, to the otherwise express violence of her self-imposed death.

Despite the means with which she kills herself (and, as far as history goes, there is no recorded and detailed account of her drowning, so one asks: how did she actually drown?), Woolf’s demise could only be considered tragic and brutal, if subjected to the traditional, religious and social perceptions of suicide. However, in Cunningham’s prologue, he does not portray that death by drowning could be distressing, offensive, messy, or even awkward. He does not describe how a person like Woolf, perhaps like any other, would probably be thrashing about in the waters, arms and limbs and head and hair all flailing about, gasping and choking. Instead, what he delivers is the silent and almost tender poetry of self-elimination, so familiar with the romantics, as if the act of killing oneself is just as ordinary as walking in the park, or as comfortable and painless as laying one’s head down on the grass for an afternoon nap.

Perhaps, this is Cunningham’s take on the ultimate liberation of self from worldly shackles; that death, whichever way it is carried out, is something that renders itself a sweet and silent end. He actually repeats the effect later in the novel with Laura Brown’s attempts to kill herself by the serene (almost surreal) ingestion of sleeping pills. And, again, in Richard’s freefall to his death without so much of a whoosh (like the soundless image of a bird gliding in the sky) that somehow negates the horror.

Apart from being the cunning anchor to the rest of the novel, Cunningham’s prologue has a sampling of various theoretical and thought styles evident in many literary forms. For instance, he uses a style of free speech, rendering the narrative a sense of a free-flowing “stream of consciousness” of Woolf’s thoughts, observations and perceptions occurring on the page, as they would occur in the real sense. Woolf’s observations are not necessarily interconnected with each other, but Cunningham’s direct expression of objects and things that Woolf encounters at that exact moment effects a direct impression upon the reader of what the character actually sees and feels.

The use of the present tense also tends to encourage the reader to “tag along”, as Woolf herself “…pauses, watching the sheep and the sky, then walks on”. In this, Cunningham successfully espouses one of the basic tenets of good writing raised by John Gardner in his book, 'The Art of Fiction', which propounded that: “The basic principle stands in any case, at least so long as fiction contains characters at all: The writer must enable us to see and feel vividly what his characters see and feel; that is, enable us to experience as directly and intensely as possible, though vicariously, what his characters experience.”

The snatches of “interiorised talk” (ie, “(is his name John?)”, “(is she or is she not conjuring them herself?)”) provides an insight into the depth of Woolf’s mind in that particular place and time, an internal monologue device that effectively detracts the reader from the narrative’s third-person point-of-view, without compromising the integrity of that voice. It also has a softening effect to the somewhat dense reading of almost dialogue-less narrative (the sparse dialogue comes at the end of the prologue).

For a reader who may be more acquainted with reading a technical, scientific or legal writing piece, the use of a pyramid structure in storytelling or discourse is commonplace. Cunningham, perhaps, consciously utilised this pyramid style by setting out the climax to Woolf’s life in the prologue, leading the reader to the elucidation of the essence of her life in later pages, and finally, upon reaching the end of the book, bringing the reader back to that one single moment of defiance against nature (that’s why she killed herself), so vividly depicted in the prologue.

It is therefore fitting to view the prologue to 'The Hours' as an example of a rich premise to an even more engaging discourse in the life of a legend. Something that every reader should revel in and every writer should aspire to.

This review appeared on http://www.ramonloyola.org ( )
  ramonloyola | Apr 19, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (34 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Cunningham, Michaelprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Alopaeus, MarjaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Goddijn, ServaasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hodge, PatriciaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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We'll hunt for a third tiger now, but like the others this one too will be a form of what I dream, a structure of words, and not the flesh and bone tiger that beyond all myths paces the earth. I know these things quite well, yet nonetheless some force keeps driving me in the vague, unreasonable, and ancient quest, and I go on pursuing through the hours another tiger, the beast not found in verse.
- J.L. Borges, The Other Tiger, 1960
I have no time to describe my plans. I should say a good deal about The Hours, and my discovery; how I dig out beautiful caves behind my characters; I think that gives exactly what I want; humanity, humour, depth. The idea is that the caves shall connect, and each comes to daylight at the present moment.
- Virginia Wolf, in her diary, August 30, 1923
This book is for Ken Corbett
First words
Sie hastet aus dem Haus, wirft einen für die Witterung zu schweren Mantel über: 1941.
She hurries from the house, wearing a coat too heavy for the weather. It is 1941.
"We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep–it's as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out of windows or drown themselves or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us, the vast majority, are slowly devoured by some disease or, if we're very fortunate, by time itself. 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) knows these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything, for more.
Heaven only knows why we love it so."
What a thrill, what a shock, to be alive on a morning in June, prosperous, almost scandalously privileged, with a simple errand to run.
It had seemed like the beginning of happiness, and Clarissa is still sometimes shocked, more than thirty years later, to realize that it was happiness; that the entire experience lay in a kiss and a walk, the anticipation of dinner and a book...What lives undimmed in Clarissa's mind more than three decades later is a kiss at dusk on a patch of dead grass, and a walk around a pond as mosquitoes droned in the darkening air. There is still that singular perfection, and it's perfect in part because it seemed, at the time, so clearly to promise more. Now she knows: That was the moment, right then. There has been no other.
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Book description
The book concerns three generations of women affected by a Virginia Woolf novel. The first is Woolf herself writing Mrs. Dalloway in 1923 and struggling with her own mental illness. The second is Mrs. Brown, wife of a World War II veteran, who is reading Mrs. Dalloway in 1949 as she plans her husband's birthday party. The third is Clarissa Vaughan, a lesbian, who plans a party in 1998 to celebrate a major literary award received by her good friend and former lover, the poet Richard, who is dying of AIDS. The situations of all three characters mirror situations experienced by Woolf's Clarissa Dalloway in 'Mrs. Dalloway', with Clarissa Vaughn being a very literal modern-day version of Woolf's character.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312305060, Paperback)

The Hours is both an homage to Virginia Woolf and very much its own creature. Even as Michael Cunningham brings his literary idol back to life, he intertwines her story with those of two more contemporary women. One gray suburban London morning in 1923, Woolf awakens from a dream that will soon lead to Mrs. Dalloway. In the present, on a beautiful June day in Greenwich Village, 52-year-old Clarissa Vaughan is planning a party for her oldest love, a poet dying of AIDS. And in Los Angeles in 1949, Laura Brown, pregnant and unsettled, does her best to prepare for her husband's birthday, but can't seem to stop reading Woolf. These women's lives are linked both by the 1925 novel and by the few precious moments of possibility each keeps returning to. Clarissa is to eventually realize:
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.... Still, we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything, for more.
As Cunningham moves between the three women, his transitions are seamless. One early chapter ends with Woolf picking up her pen and composing her first sentence, "Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself." The next begins with Laura rejoicing over that line and the fictional universe she is about to enter. Clarissa's day, on the other hand, is a mirror of Mrs. Dalloway's--with, however, an appropriate degree of modern beveling as Cunningham updates and elaborates his source of inspiration. Clarissa knows that her desire to give her friend the perfect party may seem trivial to many. Yet it seems better to her than shutting down in the face of disaster and despair. Like its literary inspiration, The Hours is a hymn to consciousness and the beauties and losses it perceives. It is also a reminder that, as Cunningham again and again makes us realize, art belongs to far more than just "the world of objects." --Kerry Fried

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:05:30 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

In a novel of love, family inheritance, and desperation, the author offers a fictional account of Virginia Woolf's last days and her friendship with a poet living in his mother's shadow.

» see all 9 descriptions

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