The Hours Drag

I already had Michael Cunningham’s The Hours in the library. After enjoying Mrs. Dalloway the urge to read Cunningham’s homage to Woolf was irresistible. My paperback of The Hours came filled with encouraging reviews, labelled as the “Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction the PEN/Faulkner Award“.

The story is told as a triptych. Virginia Woolf writes Mrs. Dalloway whilst a 1990’s version of Clarissa plans a party and a discontented 1940’s mother attempts to read Mrs. Dalloway.
 
Occasionally the homage trips into pastiche:

She will go, she thinks, to London; she will simply go to London, like Nelly on an errand, although Virginia’s errand will be the trip itself, the half hour on the train, the disembarking at Paddington station, the possibility of walking down a street into another street, and another after that. What a lark! What a plunge! It seems that she can survive, she can prosper, if she has London around her . . .

. . . as Big Ben strikes the hours, which fall in leaden circles over the partygoers and the omnibuses, over stone Queen Victoria seated before the Palace on her shelves of geraniums, over the parks that lie sunken in their shadowed solemnity behind black iron fences.

The prose is good enough to propel the story forward but I enjoyed it less with each chapter. The Virginia Woolf chapters are effective, particularly the prologue dealing with Woolf’s suicide. The other chapters read like a Saturday night soap opera script.The characterisation lost me completely. Not reading Mrs. Dalloway before The Hours is advisable. The 1990’s Clarissa now shares a lesbian marriage with Sally and Richard is a bisexual dying of AIDS. Much of the characterisation is clichéd and camp.At best, it is an interesting experiment but not one in which I am pleased to have participated.

[After writing this post I found the film The Hours on Apple TV. It is compelling with some exceptional acting. I enjoyed it rather more than the book.]

4 thoughts on “The Hours Drag

  1. >Dear Sir,You have perfectly captured my feeling about the experience. I spent a lot of time wondering what was wrong with me that I couldn't appreciate the book when I had liked Virginia Woolf so much, and I realized that it was in part because I liked her work so much that as well-intentioned as _The Hours_ might have been, it did not capture for me the essence of Virginia Woolf. Not that it necessarily needed to; but, one would hope in a book about both her and one of her more famous characters there would have been a hint.I really didn't care for it at all.shalomSteven

  2. >StevenThank you for your comments. I am pleased to have my antipathy to The Hours confirmed by a serious reader. The volume of enthusiastic reviews had me wondering whether I had somehow missed the essence of the book.The market for The Hours I suspect is readers who will not read Virginia Woolf.Anthony

  3. >Dear Anthony,I thought of this after the fact, but thought I would share it becaue it seemed apropos. There are some books (events, movies, you name it) that really deserved the George Saunders quip in _All About Eve_ "It will make the minutes fly like hours."shalom,Steven

  4. >StevenThere are two significant metaphysical inventions I hope will come to pass: a fast forward button (its opposite would also be nice) and a "ctrl-f" find button for life.Anthony

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