Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Hours - Michael Cunningham

The Hours
During the summer, some of our friends came to stay with us. The husband, who is well qualified to be making such comments, saw the copy of The Hours I bought at a second hand store a few years back and asked if I had read it. When I said, no, I've been meaning to get to it for ages, he admonished me to bump it to the front of the line.

Then, we moved. And life was a bit crazy there for a few minutes. But, finally, once I got all my books unpacked and was feeling more settled, I knew it was time for this Pulitzer Prize winner. How I resisted a book that not only won such a prestigious award but also had two of my favorite actresses on the cover (Streep & Kidman) for so long, I will never know. 

Michael Cunningham's novel explores a day in the life of three women: Virginia Woolf, who is beginning work on her famous novel Mrs. Dalloway; Laura Brown, a post-WWII housewife feeling trapped by her suburban life; and Clarissa Vaughn, a turn-of-the-century lesbian who is throwing a party for an AIDS-striken, award-winning poet friend. 

At first glance, these stories have nothing to do with each other. However, Cunningham weaves them together in perhaps the most masterful work of connecting separate stories I have ever seen. So many authors who attempt this feat end up either with stories that are really almost entirely disconnected, hanging only by one thin thread of relativity, or they overemphasize their connections to the point of infantilizing the reader's ability to recognize reciprocity among characters. 

Though the women are hardly connected by tangible threads at all, the parallelism between their stories is overpowering if you are watching for it. Their mental state - each one is fighting an inner battle that those around them simply cannot begin to understand or even see - is a great example of this. After we watched the movie (watch for the Movie Monday review next week!), Kevin said he didn't get it. It was just a movie about women who were crazy. Don't worry. I took issue with that statement and we ended up having a great discussion about the inability of each sex to fully understand the emotions of the other. 

More than just the emotion, though, the women are tied in a series of events that seem mundane, but yet hold much meaning. The book is heavy with symbolism. Simple objects like flowers, water, and even cake take on heavy roles in explaining the state of these women's lives without many words. 

The book has some mature themes, so I wouldn't recommend it for everyone. However, there is nothing overly graphic. More than anything, the maturity comes from the weight and seriousness of the issues portrayed between the lines. You must go into this book looking for more than a surface story. It's depth is one of its finest qualities and certainly a strong contributing factor to its success. If you can reach that level, the book is beautiful and heartbreaking at once. 

Pages: 226
Date Completed: November 2, 2014

1 comment:

  1. I’m so glad you enjoyed and blogged about the book. It remains one of my favorites. I seem to think about the story most often when I’m talking or thinking about the nature of happiness. Each time I re-read the novel, I am struck by the “inner battle[s]” you mentioned in your post. The characters seem to struggle with a happiness that operates according rules that are, at best, irregular and indeterminate. “Beautiful and heartbreaking,” as you say.