Winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize and Pen Faulkner prize. Made into an Oscar-winning film, ‘The Hours’ is a daring and deeply affecting novel inspired by the life and work of Virginia Woolf.
Exiled in Richmond in the 1920s, taken from her beloved Bloomsbury and watched by her husband Leonard, Virginia Woolf struggles to tame her rebellious mind and make a start on her new novel.
In the brooding heat of 1940s Los Angeles, a young wife and mother yearns to escape the claustrophobia of suburban domesticity and read her precious copy of ‘Mrs Dalloway’.
And in New York in the 1990s, Clarissa Vaughan steps out of her smart Greenwich Village apartment and goes shopping for flowers for the party she is giving in honour of her life-long friend Richard, an award-winning poet whose mind and body are being ravaged by AIDS.
Michael Cunningham’s exquisite and deeply moving novel is a meditation on artistic behaviour, failure, love and madness. Moving effortlessly across the decades and between England and America, Cunningham’s elegant, haunting prose explores the pain and trauma of creativity and the immutable relationship between writer and reader.
‘“The Hours” is a book which heightens the perception of the reader. Cunningham’s craftsmanship is overwhelming.’ Robert Farren, Independent on Sunday
‘An extremely moving, original and memorable novel.’ Hermione Lee, TLS
‘Engrossing, imaginative and humane.’ Richard Francis, Observer
‘“The Hours” refracts the lives of three women through the prism of a single day. Michael Cunningham evokes these three discrete characters with rare skill.’ Financial Times
‘The concept behind the novel is bold, the execution rich with feeling.’ Helen Dunmore, The Times
‘A sensitive marriage of intelligence, integrity and finely textured emotions.’ Sunday Times
‘Cunningham has found an American tone which is exhilaratingly modern – tense, tender and completely without strain.’ Guardian
About the author
Michael Cunningham is the author of six novels, including ‘A Home at the End of the World’, ‘Flesh and Blood’, ‘The Hours’ (winner of the PEN / Faulkner Award and the Pulitzer Prize), ‘Specimen Days’ and ‘By Nightfall’, as well as ‘Land’s End: A Walk in Provincetown’. His most recent novel is ‘The Snow Queen’. He lives in New York.
At first blush, the structural and thematic conceits of this novel--three interwoven novellas in varying degrees connected to Virginia Woolf--seem like the stuff of a graduate student's pipe dream: a great idea in the dorm room that betrays a lack of originality. But as soon as one dips into Cunningham's prologue, in which Woolf's suicide is rendered with a precise yet harrowing matter-of-factness ("She hurries from the house, wearing a coat too heavy for the weather. It is 1941. She has left a note for Leonard, and another for Vanessa."), the reader becomes completely entranced. This book more than fulfills the promise of Cunningham's 1990 debut, A Home at the End of the World, while showing that sweep does not necessarily require the sprawl of his second book, Flesh and Blood. In alternating chapters, the three stories unfold: "Mrs. Woolf," about Virginia's own struggle to find an opening for Mrs. Dalloway in 1923; "Mrs. Brown," about one Laura Brown's efforts to escape, somehow, an airless marriage in California in 1949 while, coincidentally, reading Mrs. Dalloway; and "Mrs. Dalloway," which is set in 1990s Greenwich Village and concerns Clarissa Vaughan's preparations for a party for her gay--and dying--friend, Richard, who has nicknamed her Mrs. Dalloway. Cunningham's insightful use of the historical record concerning Woolf in her household outside London in the 1920s is matched by his audacious imagining of her inner lifeand his equally impressive plunges into the lives of Laura and Clarissa. The book would have been altogether absorbing had it been linked only thematically. However, Cunningham cleverly manages to pull the stories even more intimately togther in the closing pages. Along the way, rich and beautifully nuanced scenes follow one upon the other: Virginia, tired and weak, irked by the early arrival of headstrong sister Vanessa, her three children and the dead bird they bury in the backyard; Laura's afternoon escape to an L.A. hotel to read for a few hours; Clarissa's anguished witnessing of her friend's suicidal jump down an airshaft, rendered with unforgettable detail. The overall effect of this book is twofold. First, it makes a reader hunger to know all about Woolf, again; readers may be spooked at times, as Woolf's spirit emerges in unexpected ways, but hers is an abiding presence, more about living than dying. Second, and this is the gargantuan accomplishment of this small book, it makes a reader believe in the possibility and depth of a communality based on great literature, literature that has shown people how to live and what to ask of life. FYI: The Hours was a working title that Woolf for a time gave to Mrs. Dalloway.