The hours

by Michael Cunningham

Hardcover, 2000




New York : Picador USA : Distributed by Holtzbrinck Publishers, [2000].


A trio of stories around the writer, Virginia Woolf. In the first, set in 1923, Woolf is writing her novel, Mrs. Dalloway. The second story is on a woman reading the novel in 1949 Los Angeles, while the third is on a woman in present-day New York who has been nicknamed Mrs. Dalloway by her boyfriend.

Media reviews

Cunningham gives you every chance to hear his echoes of Woolf's style: the whimsical similes, the rueful parentheses, the luminous circumstantial detail. And the narrative method is a homage to Woolf's novel. Each section imitates Mrs Dalloway by being restricted to the events of a single day, and
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follows the stream of one consciousness, only to leave it, for a sentence or a paragraph, for another....Imitation is fitting because Woolf's original novel was trying to do justice to the sharpness of new experience, even as it detonates old memories, and this endeavour is always worth trying afresh.
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We don't have to read ''Mrs. Dalloway'' before we can read ''The Hours,'' and no amount of pedantic comparison-hunting will help us understand it if we don't understand it already. But the connections between the two books, after the initial, perhaps overelaborate laying out of repetitions and
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divergences, are so rich and subtle and offbeat that not to read ''Mrs. Dalloway'' after we've read ''The Hours'' seems like a horrible denial of a readily available pleasure -- as if we were to leave a concert just when the variations were getting interesting.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member mrstreme
The Hours is a complex yet succinct look into the lives of three women: Virginia Woolf as she writes Mrs. Dalloway, Clarissa Vaughan as she plans a party for her best friend, Richard, and Laura Brown as she plans a birthday party for her husband. These three women's stories are distinctive and
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seemingly unrelated, but as the book ends, you are swept into the many parallels and connections of these women's lives.

Without spoiling the ending, I will remark that some of these parallels include lesbianism, suicide, party plannning and Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. It's an eclectic mix, but if you're familar with Woolf's literature, you will probably connect the dots pretty quickly. Admittedly, I have not read any of Woolf's books, but a quick study of her on Wikipedia was enough for me to fully appreciate what Michael Cunningham was trying to tell in his Pulitzer prize winning story.

The Hours is an interesting women's tale with characters you can empathize with. I feel fortunate to have seen the movie before reading the book, so the talents of Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman and Ed Harris filled my head as I read Cunningham's words. I highly recommend either one, or even better, both the book and movie for an introspective look into the lives of three thought-provoking women.
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LibraryThing member richardderus
Rating: 4.75* of five

The Book Report: Three women mirror the facets of the life of Clarissa Dalloway, heroine of the novel Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. One life is Mrs. Woolf herself, shown in the depths of despair as she convalesces from one of her crippling bouts with depression in the
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suburban aridity of Richmond while pining for life in London's Bloomsbury, writing her novel of the exquisite nature of the quotidian. Another is the life of Mrs. Laura Brown, dying a million deaths every day in suburban Los Angeles, raising a son and pregnant again by a good man she doesn't love, as she reads Mrs. Dalloway and ponders escape. Lastly the life of Clarissa Vaughn, whose long unrequited love for Richard Brown, her gay poet/novelist friend, has led her to care for him tenderly in his final years as an AIDS patient. He long ago nicknamed her “Mrs. Dalloway,” both for her first name and for her exquisitely self-abnegating strength.

Over the course of one day in the life of each woman, everything she knows and feels about her life is sharply refocused; it is made clear to each that, to escape the trap she is in, she must accept change or die in the trap. The ending of the book brings all three strands to their inevitable conclusions, with surprising overlaps.

My Review: I first read this when it came out in 1998. I fell in love instantly, as I had with Mrs. Dalloway at a slightly earlier date. I loved the imaginative structure of interwoven lives, commenting on each other and riffing off the events in each world, echoing some facet in every case the events in the iconic novel Mrs. Dalloway.

I can't give it five stars because, in the end, I wondered a bit if the clever-clever hadn't gotten in the way of the emotional core of the book, which I saw as the gritty determination of the women to live on their own terms and in their own lives not dependent on convention. In making the book conform to this ideal, I felt that some plot strands weren't honestly dealt with but rather forced into a shape required by the author's plans.

That cavil aside, the book is beautifully written and wonderfully interestingly conceived. I'd recommend it heartily, and suggest reading it in conjunction with the movie.
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LibraryThing member RussellBittner
As I said elsewhere in my review of André Dubus’s The House of Sand and Fog, I much prefer to read the book before I see the film, only because it becomes virtually impossible to divorce myself from the actors’ portrayal of the characters in the book from what I imagine those characters to be
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as I read the book. As I also said in that same review, however, seeing the film first didn’t necessarily detract from the book version of the story. Such is also the case with Michael Cunningham’s The Hours.

When I first came out of the movie theater, I was depressed. “Because of the subject matter of the movie?” you may well ask. No, not in the least. Rather, because I felt I could never write anything that good (and I assumed, given the integrity of the film, that the Director had stayed close to Cunningham’s original storyline.

When I next read the book, I closed it at the end and was equally depressed. “Why” again? Because reading the book only confirmed my earlier sense of resignation.

The Hours is a flawless performance in celluloid and an equally flawless performance in prose. Could Michael Cunningham rest on his laurels with this book? I think he could. I hope for all of us, however, that he won’t.

Brooklyn, NY, USA
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LibraryThing member andreablythe
The Hours is a loving homage to Virginia Woolf's [Mrs. Dalloway]. The novel tells the stories of three women — Clarissa, a 52-year-old woman planning a party for her friend and former lover dying of AIDS; Laura, a young pregnant housewife in 1949 feeling trapped by the order of her life, and
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Virginia Woolf herself attempting to begin the writing of Mrs. Dalloway in 1925. Each story relates the women's complex inner journeys over the course of a single day.

One of the many profound ways these women's lives and hearts overlap is the way each woman seeks to create her own form of perfection in the world, making such a small thing into so much more than what it is. For Clarissa, it's putting together a party that will properly honor her friend. For Laura, it's assembling a cake that reflects all her feelings of love. For Virginia, it's taking words and shaping them into a story that reveals and transports. And yet, each in her own way feels herself incapable of achieving this perfection. This is just one part of this novel, just one piece, but it's a piece that resonated with me and is something I found to be a part of what makes this novel so heartbreakingly beautiful.

Not only do are each of these women affected personally by the novel, Mrs. Dalloway, but also the writing style of The Hours imitates Woolf's style, the way she layered image and meaning together in complex network of poetic prose. Like Mrs. Dalloway, The Hours is a novel that requires a certain amount of presence and focus in order to follow, but the result of each novel is uniquely beautiful and each are worth a read.

A delightful little footnote: I love that Clarissa mentions seeing a movie star (maybe Meryl Streep) and that Meryl Streep plays Clarissa in the movie version of The Hours.
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LibraryThing member porch_reader
The Hours is a haunting, complex story. Cunningham weaves together three storylines from three different time periods. In 1923, Virginia Woolf begins writing Mrs. Dalloway as she struggles to manage mental illness. Laura Brown is reading Mrs. Dalloway in the 1950s as she struggles to adapt to life
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as a wife and mother. Clarissa Vaughan deals with sadness of her own as she plans a party for an old friend, who has always called her Mrs. Dalloway. In each of these stories, there are themes of longing and despair. Cunningham magically conveys these moods with spare prose that uncovers layer after layer of his characters deepest thoughts and feelings. This book is so beautifully written that when I read the final page, I wanted to turn to the beginning and start again.
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LibraryThing member mahsdad
This Pulitzer Prize winning novel tells a "day in the life" story of 3 women at 3 different eras all interconnected by Virgina Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. The first, is Virginia Woolf herself, as she struggles with mental illness and inspiration as she begins writing the book that will become Mrs.
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Dalloway. The second, is Mrs Brown, in 1949 Los Angeles, as she is reading the book and plans her husband's birthday party. The third is Clarrisa Vaughan (who's nickname is Mrs. Dalloway), as she plans the party for her friend and former lover; Richard, who is dying of AIDS.

I've never read Mrs. Dalloway, but that didn't take away from the poignancy of the book. Excellent writing, worthy of the award. The novel is constructed in a stream of conscience way, where Cunningham jumps back and forth between the 3 woman, linking them between the woman who wrote the book, the woman who is reading the book, and the woman who is living the book. Recommend.
She knew she was going to have trouble believing in herself, in the rooms of her house, and when she glanced over at this new book on her nightstand, stacked atop the one she finished last night, she reached for it automatically, as if reading were the singular and obvious first task of the day, the only viable way to negotiate the transit from sleep to obligation.
First come the headaches, which are not in any way ordinary pain. They infiltrate her. They inhabit rather than merely afflict her the way viruses inhabit their hosts. Strands of pain announce themselves, throw shivers of brightness into her eyes so insistently she must remind herself that others can't see them. Pain colonizes her, quickly replaces what was Virginia with more and more of itself, and its advance is so forceful, its jagged contours so distinct, that she can't help imagining it as an entity with a life of its own.


S: 1/2/17 - 1/11/18 (10 Days)
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LibraryThing member Cariola
In his brief essay "First Love," Michael Cunningham recalls how, at the age of 15, he was not much of a reader, but he tried to impress a literary-minded girl by saying something smart about the poetry of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. She replied that if he was really interested in poetry, he needed
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to read T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf. Young Michael promptly headed over to the local Bookmobile, picked up a battered copy of Mrs. Dalloway, and, upon reading it, fell deeply and unexpectedly in love--not with the girl, but with the book. His 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winner, The Hours, is a tribute Woolf's remarkable novel.

In what Cunningham likens to a jazz improvisation, The Hours weaves characters, themes, and motifs drawn from Mrs. Dalloway into an entirely new yet still recognizable form, told through the stories of one day in the lives of three different women. The novel opens with Virginia Woolf herself as a character, choosing a large stone to cram into her coat pocket as she walks towards the river Ouse. As the book proceeds, Virginia's story flashes back to 1923, the year in which she wrote her most famous novel. Clarissa Vaughan--affectionately called "Mrs. Dalloway" by her friend Richard, a poet losing both his sanity and his life to AIDS--is an editor in her fifties, living in 1990s New York not with an MP but with her longtime lesbian lover, Sally. She, like Clarissa Dalloway, sets out to buy flowers for a party she is hosting that evening. In the third story, set in California in 1949, pregnant homemaker and mother Laura Brown is torn between staying in bed to read Mrs. Dalloway and getting up to prepare for her husband's birthday celebration. As each woman's day moves along, she is haunted by memories and old dreams, hungers for moments of brilliance and creativity, faces the conflicts between domestic demands and a sense of selfhood, and ponders the stretch of time ahead of her.

Part of the pleasure of reading The Hours--at least for lovers of Mrs. Dalloway--is to follow Cunningham's movements and variations, his reassignment of character names and traits and his revisioning of scenes from Woolf's novel. But in and of itself, The Hours is a stunning achievement.

(My students, who were assigned both books, felt that The Hours also helped them to better understand Mrs. Dalloway--another tribute to Cunningham's skillful rendition.)
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LibraryThing member kambrogi
Our book/movie club did this one(with [Mrs. Dalloway]). This is a book that people often finish and immediately want to read over, and I enjoyed it the second time even more than the first. It is deceptively simple, but the complexity is revealed when all the threads tie up at the end. A very
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introspective novel with a compelling plot, it has powerful insights into women and the nature of love, life choices and lost opportunities. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member readingrat
I was swept away in the parallels of the lives of the three women in the story (four if you count Mrs. Dalloway). I even went out to get Mrs. Dalloway to read because since I had not yet read that book I'm sure I missed many of the literary references therein. The ending was just the icing on the
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LibraryThing member melydia
Sometimes I wish books came with reading prerequisites listed on the cover. There are very few novels with which one can assume the average person will be familiar. In The Hours, I suspect it would have been rather helpful to have first read Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. Or be, you know, at all
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familiar with Woolf in the first place. Not that a quick skim of the Wikipedia plot summary wasn't enough for me to understand the story, but I think I would have gotten a lot more out of it were I able to pick up on the subtle references to Woolf's characters. All in all, I wasn't too impressed with this one. It wasn't bad; it just didn't really pull me in at all. I didn't care much about the characters, the depressing bits felt meaningless, and the introspection was nothing I hadn't heard before. I suspect I might enjoy a Cunningham novel not based on another book. I'm just not sure I'll ever get around to picking one up.
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
3202 The Hours, by Michael Cunningham (read May 30, 1999) I read Mrs. Dalloway because I intended to read this book. I now can again say I've read every book of fiction that has won a Pulitzer Prize, clear back to 1917's winner, His Family, by Ernest Poole, which I read April 27, 1958.The Hours is
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elegantly written and its story line is easier to follow than is Mrs. Dalloway's. But I felt very little for the characters in The Hours, so I cannot say I much appreciated the book.
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LibraryThing member evangelista
The Hours, an homage to the work of Virginia Woolf, is composed of three story lines woven seamlessly together that merge thematically (and in one dramatic moment physically) at various points in the novel. Virginia Woolf struggles in domestic exile from London as she begins to write Mrs. Dalloway.
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Laura Brown yearns for escape from 1950s family life. Clarissa Vaughan, like Clarissa Dalloway, is planning a party for her dearest friend Richard who has just won a literary prize as he slips away with AIDS.

All three women suffer in some degree from the scripting of their lives. As Woolf writes (or scripts) the fictional life of Mrs. Dalloway, her husband Leonard confines her to a domestic script removed from London where she has experienced such psychological unease. Woolf struggles to remember her lines as she gives directions to the housekeeper. She thinks that her sister, Vanessa, that visits is more comfortable in this play of domesticity than she will ever be. Laura feels that she is "about to go onstage and perform in a play for which she is not appropriately dressed, and for which she has not adequately rehearsed." Clarissa surveys her own kitchen and hardly recognizes the accoutrement of her life, all tastefully selected and arranged but more prop than reflection of her essence, the eighteen year old girl that kisses Richard in a defining moment.

Virginia and Laura both struggle under the societal expectations of their times. The lines they strive to deliver have been written by a patriarchal culture. Both characters have husbands that seek to control their actions under the guise of protecting them (from themselves presumably). However, both women reveal in their thoughts that the sanity or balance they desire exists outside the boundaries of the societal definition of sound mental health. There are few alternatives for both but escape. Conversely, Clarissa appears the picture of equanimity and normalcy. However, despite her freedom to live openly as a lesbian and make her own choices for her life, Clarissa is still playing the traditional roles of wife and mother. When Richard the poet seeks to define her as she truly is in his one prose outing, the language is virtually incomprehensible to most.

Ultimately, language and behavior outside of the patriarchal norms exist as "the other" in this novel no matter the time frame. The focus on objects, the peppering of life's sets with both the expected and the personal are beautiful here as the characters strive to meet societal expectations that do not always serve their intellect, heart, or sanity well.
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LibraryThing member HotWolfie
The plot was slow and unfulfilling. The dialog fell flat for me and, in my opionion, it sounded like a male author writing his own perception of female characters (too cardboard, too cliched). I felt the characters lacked realistic voices, and that made this a painful read. I do not think Michael
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Cunningham was able to believably write from a female perspective (unlike some other male authors i.e. Neil Gaiman, Daniel Clowes). This novel was a dud for me.
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LibraryThing member jmoncton
OK, I just knew I was going to have to eat my words...Last week, I was whining about Mrs. Dalloway. The meandering narrative had me absolutely convinced that I was ADHD. Well this past week, I decided to listen to Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Hours. The novel is about a
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single day in the lives of 3 women, who are loosely tied together by the book, Mrs. Dalloway. The women - Virginia Woolf, who is just starting to write Mrs. Dalloway, Laura Brown, who is reading Mrs. Dalloway, and Clarissa Vaughan who is planning a party for a dying friend who has playfully nicknamed her Mrs. Dalloway. Although the women are different ages, occupations, and live in different time periods, their stories have some very interesting common threads. I found this book to be absolutely brilliant. I loved the similarities between the stories and how the plot tied in very closely to Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway (I guess I was paying attention after all!). If you listen to this book, you will definitely want to read Mrs. Dalloway first. It ties the stories together and makes The Hours a much richer experience. So, reading this book had me running over to wikipedia to learn more about Virginia Woolf. And yes, I will probably increase my rating to 3 stars for Mrs. Dalloway (chomp chomp). But the author I really want to add to my shelf is Michael Cunningham - what a clever and enjoyable book!
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LibraryThing member DubaiReader

I really did not enjoy this book and would probably have abandoned it if it hadn't been in the form of an unabridged audiobook. The author seemed to be trying to be something literary, as if having just completed a creative writing course, but it didn't work for me. It was tediously
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slow, with some repetetive themes such as flowers, and chaste kisses between women that portended something else, and repetetive phrases, such as 'here is...', which irritated me.

I have not read Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Wolf and maybe I would have got more from this book if I had, possibly i would be giving three stars. But i'm not convinced that I'd be awarding any more than that, even so.

There are three main (female) characters. The first, set in the 1932s, is the author, Virginia Wolf, struggling with mental health problems and trying to write her novel, Mrs Dalloway. The second, is a young mother in the 1940s, who is desperate to read her copy of Mrs Dalloway but must bake a cake for her husband's birthday and care for her adoring young son. And finally, in the present day, we meet Clarissa, renamed Mrs Dalloway by her dying gay friend, for whom she is preparing a party.
That is about it, very little happens and the ending is similarly flat. I think the only part I gained anything from, was the description of Virginia's two nieces and a nephew discovering a dying bird in Vanessa's garden.

Not recommended at all.
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LibraryThing member lucymaesmom
Passionate, profound and deeply moving, The Hours is the story of three women: Clarissa aughan, who one New York morning goes about planning a party in honor of a beloved friend; Laura Brown, who in a 1950's LA suburb slowly begins to feel the constraints of a perfect family and home; and Virginia
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Woolf, recupuerating with her husband in a London suburb, and beginning to write 'Mrs. Dalloway'. By the end of the novel, the stories have intertwined.
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LibraryThing member iubookgirl
I enjoyed this book, but it represents one of the rare occasions when I enjoyed the film version more than the book. I appreciate novels that integrate stories across time, but felt the film did a better job than the novel in creating a coherent vision of the disparate stories.
LibraryThing member qarae
I don't usually compare books and their movies, but I have to say that I enjoyed the movie more than the book. I feel the book left too many holes in the descriptive sense, so I couldn't connect with the characters, I didn't even have a true sense of who they were. I feel the movie did a better job
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of this.
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LibraryThing member eheleneb3
This book is absolutely exquisite. It is exactly what I want from a novel—it is deep and complex and immensely enjoyable, and it far exceeded my expectations. It centers around a day in the lives of three women in three different eras, all of whom are affected by the novel Mrs. Dalloway in some
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way—Virginia Woolf in 1920s England, as she is writing it; Laura Brown in 1950s Los Angeles, a melancholy mother and housewife who is reading it; and Clarissa Vaughn, the modern embodiment of Mrs. Dalloway. The book flows between the three women’s lives, picking up and dropping subtle themes and nuances as it goes. It’s everything—the writing, the characters, the way this man is able to so accurately and fully describe feelings that the typical woman feels every day—all of these facets converge to make this book spectacular. Cunningham has created his magnum opus—it manages to reflect Mrs. Dalloway without imitating it; it draws on the same themes but takes them to new places. This is a masterpiece, I enjoyed every minute of reading it, and I believe it is a modern classic.
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LibraryThing member mmyoung
An interesting literary conceit which did, in the end, live up to this reader's expectations.
LibraryThing member dczapka
Every so often, a novel comes along that reaffirms your faith in literature, in the power of reading to transcend the written page and truly impact the world at large. While others may disagree, I found The Hours to be just such a novel, a work of remarkable beauty and grace that is an incredible
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pleasure to read.

Telling three tales that begin as disparate but gradually and subtly weave themselves together, the novel concerns three generations of women impacted in some way by Virginia Woolf's landmark novel Mrs. Dalloway. Woolf herself struggles with her personal demons as she starts work on the novel; Laura Brown, a 1950s housewife, reads the book and seeks out the beauty and purpose in her own frustratingly staid life; and Clarissa Vaughan is a modern Dalloway-esque woman planning a celebration for her AIDS-ridden friend Richard, a renowned author.

Each narrative contains its own impressive moments, most particularly Mrs. Brown's, which is tinged with the kind of sadness and mundanity that marks the best of Woolf's work. The originality of the tale is a refreshing alternative to the sections on Mrs. Woolf (which are fictionalized but based upon Cunningham's readings of her diaries) and Mrs. Vaughan, although the latter is an impressive reimagining of the Dalloway narrative that both honors the source text and rewrites it in some surprising ways.

The thing that makes the novel so astonishing, however, is Cunningham's subtle sympathy for the women he so masterfully draws. Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Vaughan, Cunningham's own wholly original creations, are both as conflicted as they are confident, and though they are faced with a number of challenges throughout the brief text, the authorial voice never appears judgmental. In fact, though Cunningham is consciously invoking Woolf, his tone is impressively even. The result is that when the strands of the novel intersect with a stunning revelation, we are as shocked by the turn as we are impressed with Cunningham's ability to keep the wool over our eyes. At all turns, his voice is confident and restrained, letting the words do the work -- and they do it well.

Affirming the power of the novel and the ability of literature to trasncend time and space, The Hours is an incredible achievement that is as hard to put down as it is to forget. Though it may have been conceived as a humble tribute to a masterwork, its near-flawless execution makes it nothing less than a masterwork itself.
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LibraryThing member juliette07
I have just completed this book, the 1999 prize winner of the Pulitzer and Pen/Faulkner award. I have been completely immersed in the lives of three women as I have followed them to the end of a momentous day. This is a complex, hugely enjoyable yet deeply demanding book that begs as many questions
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as it answers.
As soon as a question forms reflections flood in. All through I was struck by recurring themes and ideas. I would love to study this book in depth to explore further many of the puzzles…..

Puzzles Queries and Thoughts …
Why hours?
Is this a book of middle age and the relinquishing of youth?
Kisses are laid before us with very careful almost precise language.
Creativity .., so wonderful yet here so close to sanity and the converse.
The joy of life and yet the shadow of death is never far from the writing.
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LibraryThing member EmilyRB
The Hours focuses on three very different women who all find inspiration in Virginia Woolf's novel, Mrs. Dalloway. As the three characters' stories are told, the reader begins to see that they are all very much connected, with one character being Woolf herself during the time she wrote Mrs.
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LibraryThing member BrianDewey
Cunningham, Michael. The Hours. Picador USA, New York, 1998. This is a fabulous book. It weaves together three stories: one, the story of Virginia Woolf battling insanity while writing Mrs. Dalloway. Two, the story of Laura Brown, also battling insanity, who reads Mrs. Dalloway while contemplating
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suicide. Three, the story of ``Clarissa Dalloway'', who is throwing a party in New York for a dying friend of hers. The book is a multi-faceted contemplation of love and insanity. The writing is beautiful and the story compelling. Makes me want to re-read Mrs. Dalloway!
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LibraryThing member jdecastro
The merits of a book should be able to stand on it's own, somehow the Hours falls short of that. I assume someone was interested in the story and therefore a movie evolved. But only the movie holds interest for me, even though I read the book before the movie was released.
I find the Hours written
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primarily to engage me in a superficial way, attempting to grasp at my heartstrings in the same way "made for television stories" do - not really truthful but textbookish, telling us how we should feel instead of letting us actually feel as the characters. Nicole Kidman actually was Virginia Woolf. That's what made the movie great. Unfortunately for me, the books falls short.
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