The Hours

The Hours, Michael Cunningham; 2000

I tried to be responsible and read Mrs. Dalloway before  I read The Hours, but I was just too excited about The Hours because I had seen the movie and I couldn’t get past the halfway mark of Mrs. Dalloway. SO, I just read The Hours. I don’t think it’s required to read Mrs. D before the The Hours. From the 100 pages I read of Mrs. D I understood the general gist and parallels between the two. Although now that I’ve finished The Hours, I am certainly more tempted to return to Mrs. D. ANYWAY –

The Hours is haunted by Mrs. Dalloway – appropriately, because its theme is the haunting of present lives by memories, literature, and missed futures. Michael Cunningham’s novel follows the lives of three women over the course of a single day in their lives. We meet Clarissa – nicknamed Mrs. Dalloway by her friends – on a June morning in New York City in the 1990’s. Clarissa needs to buy flowers for a party she is giving for a close friend. Laura Brown is a housewife in 1949 in Los Angeles, who reads Mrs. Dalloway as she attempts to escape from an airless life. Finally, Cunningham offers a fictional version of Virginia Woolf, who is living outside of London and setting out to write Mrs. Dalloway in 1923, which at this point is still titled “The Hours”.

The intersections of these lives was sort of ruined for me because I’d seen the movie a few years ago. But if you’re coming to it fresh, the intersection comes with beauty and surprise. Woolf’s spirit surprisingly emerges as a presence more about living than dying. What I loved most about this is that The Hours makes the reader believe in the possibility of a commonality in literature, that is has the possibility to show people how to live. This is a slim, Pulitzer Prize winning wonder.

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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