Sunday, 12 April 2015


I didn't think I would enjoy this book. I was wrong. 

The Hours is based on Virginia Woolf's novel, Mrs Dalloway. Being a fan of Woolf's non-fiction works, (e.g. A Room of One's Own) I was eager to enjoy this renowned novel of hers but honestly, I was a little disappointed. I'll admit, there are a lot of interesting themes within the novel, as well as beautiful pieces of prose. But for a novel that centres around a single day it sure did drag on, and I barely got halfway before I completely gave up, which I found surprising considering how much I enjoy classics! Who knows, maybe I'll pick it up again in a few years and actually take the time to wade through it patiently.

But then came Michael Cunningham's interpretation. The Hours also centres around a single day, but a single day for three different women in three different decades. One of these women being Virginia Woolf herself as she was in the 1920's, and another is a 1990's version of the character Clarissa Dalloway. Cunningham maintains the core theme of Woolf's novel, which is mental health. Specifically, mental health in a reality that is seemingly perfect and ordinary. 

I cannot put into words how stunning this novel is. Not in any way that would do it justice. 

The manner in which Cunningham brings to light how mental health can impact a person's daily life even when performing the most mundane tasks is outstanding. And his prose, his style of writing took my breath away more times than I can recall. I have a habit of highlighting the parts of a novel that impact me in some way, here are a few from The Hours:

'At this moment she could devour him, not ravenously but adoringly, infinitely gently... She is full of a love so strong, so unambiguous, it resembles appetite.'

'one of those passions that flare up when one is young - when love and ideas seem truly to be one's personal discovery, never before apprehended in quite this way; during that brief period of youth when one feels free to do or say anything; to shock, to strike out; to refuse the future that's been offered and demand another, far grander and stranger, devised and owned wholly by oneself, owing nothing to old Aunt Helena, who sits every night in her accustomed chair and wonders aloud whether Plato and Morris are suitable reading for young women.'

'Venture too far for love, she tells herself, and you renounce citizenship in the country you've made for yourself. You end up just sailing from port to port.' 

'She immediately feels relieved, as if steel cords have been loosened from around her chest.'

'Even now, in this late age, the males still hold death in their capable hands and laugh affectionately at the females, who arrange funerary beds and who speak of resuscitating the specks of nascent life abandoned in the landscape, by magic or sheer force of will.' 

'a great and almost dizzying sense of anticipation, a feeling so strong and so peculiar, so unknown under any other circumstances, that she decided some time ago to simply name it after Louis... through it run traces of devotion and guilt, attraction, a distinct element of stage fright, and a pure untarnished hope'. 

'The tears start simply enough, as a heat at the back of his eyes and a furring of his vision. These spasms of emotion take him constantly. A song can do it; even the sight of an old dog. They pass. They usually pass.' 

I could go on for a while to be honest. 

Like every great novel, The Hours has the ability to make the reader feel a little uncomfortable at times. But I welcome discomfort, I welcome a step out of my comfort zone, I enjoy the challenge.

It's not necessary to have read Mrs Dalloway before reading The Hours. However, it does make the experience a little more enjoyable, as you notice the little details Cunningham extracted from Woolf's novel, and managed to smoothly weave into his own interpretation.

The novel doesn't end in a mess of loose endings, though at first you may think otherwise. Cunningham intertwines the lives of three separate women living in three different decades in an incredibly subtle manner. The little twist in the final chapter is an almost pleasant surprise, but one that should have been obvious all along, if only you had been reading a little more closely.

The Hours is without a doubt one of the best novels I have ever read. It is subtle, sensitive, quietly moving, and stunningly beautiful.

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