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Review: The Hours

Title: The Hours

Author: Michael Cunningham

Length: 226 pages

Rating: ★★★½☆

One Sentence Summary: Virgina Woolf writes Mrs. Dalloway, Clarissa Vaughn plans a party, and Laura Brown tries to escape — three different women all impacted by the same novel.

Two Sentence Review: This book gives you just enough story about the characters to make you want to read more about all of the. The Hours is a book that is much more complicated than it initially appears.

I started reading The Hours because readers voted is as the book I should be sure to read in April. Given that so many people have already read this book, I thought doing my review in the form of questions might be fun. So here we go!

Care (Care’s Online Bookclub) asked: If you could only pick three words to describe this book, which words would you choose?

I’m not sure if these will work, but here’s my try: Escaping, Sexuality, Literature.

Gavin (Page247) asked: Do the three strands work? Are each of the characters in balance or does one “overpower” the others?

One strand of the book is about Virgina Woolf as she is writing Mrs. Dalloway. The second is about society woman Clarissa Vaughn (nicknamed Mrs. Dalloway by a friend) planning a party for her good friend Richard. The third is about Laura Brown (reading Mrs. Dalloway), a 1950s housewife that feels trapped in her life with her loving husband and son.

The three strands are connected together by the book, along with themes like lesbianism, escape, and, I suppose, feminism. Clarissa is a more literal reinterpretation of Mrs. Dalloway, but Laura also has some close moments with the book.

I thought the three strands balanced well; I didn’t feel like I was missing out on any of the characters.  The ties between Virgina  and Clarissa were pretty clear, but the ties to Laura were less obvious to me until I got to the end of the book and had a “duh!” moment because I hadn’t figured it out earlier.

Nymeth (Things Mean a Lot) asked: What do you think about the conclusion Clarissa Vaughan eventually reaches about happiness?

I think the conclusion Clarissa reaches — that there is a lot of bad in the world, but that we keep going because of the moments that “burst open and give us everything we’ve ever imagined” and learn to cherish the idea of more — is quite lovely.  I guess it’s a little depressing too, the idea that we have to sort of slog through most of life to get to the good stuff, but I still like it. I think it’s a mature recognition that not everything can be perfect, so we have to appreciate what we have.

I’m not sure if that’s exactly what the author intended, but that’s what I took away from reading.

mlh30504 asked: I’m trying to read all the Pulitzer Prize winning fiction and wondered if I should try to read Mrs. Dalloway first, before I read the PP winning The Hours. What do you think?

I think it depends what kind of reader you are. I’m a sort of reader that likes to “get” books — understand the symbolism and references and the ways one author reinvents the stories of another. Because of that, I was really frustrated that I hadn’t read Mrs. Dalloway before this book. But if your the sort of reader that is content with a good story and doesn’t care about that extra stuff, I think The Hours holds up well even without Mrs. Dalloway as a reference.

Joanne (The Book Zombie) asked: Would this book would make you want to read Woolf’s works, or maybe search out another book based upon her life?

Yes, I’ve never read Virgina Woolf before, but I would like to now.  The Hours opens with Woolf’s suicide by drowning herself in a stream, which confused me because I kept thinking she was Sylvia Plath (who killed herself by sticking her head in a stove). I looked it up on Wikipedia and had another literary “duh!” moment there too.

Anyway… I want to read Mrs. Dalloway, and probably some other Woolf now, but I’m not sure where to start. A biography maybe? Suggestions welcome! 🙂

Eva (A Striped Armchair) asked: Have you seen the movie? Which do you prefer? I ask because I saw the movie first, and I liked it more than the book! Of course, I’d also read Mrs. Dalloway first, and I think it’s difficult to follow in Woolf’s footsteps.

I haven’t seen the movie, but I really want to now. I might have a hard time convincing Boyfriend to watch it with me, but I may just find someone else.

Other Reviews: A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook; Serendipity; 1morechapter;

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Nymeth April 16, 2009, 8:13 am

    Excellent review, Kim! I liked all your answers. The happiness thing: like I told you before it’s been a while, but I remember that back then what really resonated with me was not so much the idea of putting up with a lot of bad stuff but also having some happy moments that make it all worth it (though depressing though it is, I think that’s sometimes true), but the idea that sometimes, we don’t recognize our moments of happiness. We always think that something better will come along, that “real life” with start happening anytime now. While no, this is it, and as imperfect as it is, it really matters.

  • Rebecca Reid April 16, 2009, 8:19 am

    This is a case where I wasn’t going to comment because aren’t any comments yet! In the spirit of the blog improvement project, I’ll comment anyway. I guess I was hoping someone else’s comment would help me know what to say…

    I read this and enjoyed it. (pre-blogging days, so no review.) I can’t remember much about it and I can’t remember Mrs. Dalloway either. If there is one I’ll reread, though, I think it will be the Virigina Woolf.

  • Kitten April 16, 2009, 11:03 am

    I just finished reading a couple of books on reading recommendations. The Hours was featured in both books. The authors also advised that one may want to read Mrs. Dalloway either before or after reading The Hours, “for further depth.” I’m planning to reread The Hours this summer (I originally read it six years ago), but intend to read Mrs. Dalloway first.

  • BiblioMom April 16, 2009, 1:32 pm

    I love this format for a book review! I’ve wanted to read The Hours but I didn’t realize that there was a Mrs. Dalloway tie in so I think I’ll read for that one first.

  • alirambles April 16, 2009, 5:14 pm

    The Q&A worked really well with this review. The movie is really good, too, though I wish I’d waited to see it until after reading the book.

  • Joanne April 22, 2009, 2:35 pm

    This is a great review! I think using the questions worked perfectly. I decided to go ahead and read this before Mrs Dalloway. But I think I may read the Woolf, a bio and watch the movie – then review all at the same time. Oh and the bio I’m going to pick up is “Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life” by Julia Briggs – it looks really good because it follows her life using her writing as a timeline. Or maybe “Virginia Woolf: A Writers Life” by Lyndall Gordon – it’s more traditional.

  • 3m.michelle October 27, 2009, 8:10 pm

    I viewed the movie first and was at once intrigued by it. I enjoyed the book, too, but DID NOT like Mrs. Dalloway. I found it to be very, very dense.