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.]