Friday, May 13, 2011

"The Hours" by Michael Cunningham

Published: 1998
Read: 2011
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 5
Award: 1999 Pulitzer Prize
Review: Good Reads
Author web site
On writing The Hours

Good Reads reviews were interesting as readers were polarized - they either loved it or not. I loved it. But it was probably because of the subject matter - death, specifically by suicide. See post on Josh's blog for more.

It is the story of three women's lives: Virginia Woolf, writing Mrs. Dalloway in 1923 England; Clarissa Vaughan, preparing a party for her former lover, Richard, who calls her Mrs. Dalloway and is dying of AIDS in 1999 New York City and Laura Brown, unhappy housewife, pregnant with her second child, reading Mrs. Dalloway in 1949 Los Angeles.

My favorite quotes and why:

I love the simplicity and truth of this sentence:
"Don't we love children, in part, because they live outside the realm of cynicism and irony?"
The source of Laura's unhappiness:
"In another world, she might have spent her whole life reading. But this is a new world, the rescued world - there's not much room for idleness."
Laura wishes to live in another world - one in which she is free to read, read and read. Where she does not have responsibilities for other people like her husband or young son. Where she could stay in bed all day, if desired and read Mrs. Dalloway without interruption or guilt. In some ways, I can relate. I wish that the most productive hours of my day are not spent at work. I'd rather be reading or writing. But unlike Laura, I don't think this is an all-or-nothing proposition. I can get up earlier, before work, to read and write. And I can set aside larger blocks of time during the weekend to do so. There is time to fit in what I want to do - I just have to make it happen.

I love this description of the squalid entrance to Richard's apartment. Having lived in New York City, I can just picture it.
"Only the ancient marble wainscoting - a palomino-colored marble, veined in blue and gray with a deep yellow, smoky overlay, like a very fine old cheese, now hideously echoed by the yellowish walls - indicates that this was once a building of some consequence; that hopes were nurtured here..."
Clarissa's description of what makes Richard's friendship unique:
"...and if he insists on a version of you that is funnier, stranger, more eccentric, and profound than you suspect yourself to be - capable of doing more good and more harm in the world than you've ever imagined - it is all but impossible not to believe, at least in his presence and for a while after you've left him, that he alone sees through to your essence, weighs your true qualities, and appreciates you more fully than anyone else ever has."
In one long, perfect sentence, we know everything about the relationship between these two women:
"In another life, not very much unlike this one, they'd have been enemies, but in this life, with its surprises and perversities of timing, Laura is married to a celebrated boy, a war hero, from Kitty's graduating class and has joined the aristocracy in much the way a homely German princess, no longer young, might find herself seated on a throne beside an English king."
Virginia's thought while standing over a small dead bird. I agree.
"She thinks of how much more space a being occupies in life than it does in death; how much illusion of size is contained in gestures and movements, in breathing. Dead, we are revealed in our true dimensions, and they are surprisingly modest."
Clarissa's thoughts at the end of the novel are so poignant - on death, life and hope.
"Yes, Clarissa thinks, it's time for the day to be over. We throw our parties; we abandon our families to live alone in Canada; we struggle to write books that do not change the world, despite our gifts, and our unstinting efforts, our most extravagant hopes. We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep - it's as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out of windows or drown themselves or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us, the vast majority, are slowly devoured by some disease or, if we're very fortunate, by time itself. There's just this for consolation; an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we've ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) knows these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything, for more."
A highly recommended book.

1 comment:

  1. I happen to have this on my PIE list this year. It's a book I really want to read, especially since I first heard of the movie. But I haven't read any Woolf so that's my first step.

    Btw, I found you through a circular route. I usually like to visit back anyone who comments on my blog, and I saw your other blog dedicated to Josh. I'm really sorry about your loss. I know words won't offer much help, but please know that I have you in my thoughts. I don't know if my bringing this up is advisable but I couldn't leave without saying something. Stay strong!