A daring, deeply affecting third novel by the author of A Home at the End of the World and Flesh and Blood .
In The Hours , Michael Cunningham, widely praised as one of the most gifted writers of his generation, draws inventively on the life and work of Virginia Woolf to tell the story of a group of contemporary characters struggling with the conflicting claims of love and inheritance, hope and despair. The narrative of Woolf's last days before her suicide early in World War II counterpoints the fictional stories of Samuel, a famous poet whose life has been shadowed by his talented and troubled mother, and his lifelong friend Clarissa, who strives to forge a balanced and rewarding life in spite of the demands of friends, lovers, and family.
Passionate, profound, and deeply moving, this is Cunningham's most remarkable achievement to date.
"It takes courage to emulate a revered and brilliant writer, not to mention transforming her into a character. Cunningham has done this and more in his third novel, a graceful and passionate homage to Virginia Woolf, his goddess and his muse. The Hours was her working title for what became Mrs. Dalloway, the template for this evocative tale, and Cunningham makes beautiful, improvisational use of every facet of Woolf's novel and life story. He neatly cuts back and forth in time among three women: Woolf, whom he portrays in the throes of writing Mrs. Dalloway and contemplating suicide; Laura, a young wife and mother suffocating in the confines of her tidy little life in L.A. in 1949; and Clarissa, who is giving a party in the present in New York City for her closest friend, Richard, a writer dying of AIDS. Clarissa is Mrs. Dalloway once removed--a distinguished book editor and mother of a teenage daughter, she has lived with her female lover for 18 years. These particulars match surprising well with the intellectual, sexual, and artistic complexities of Bloomsbury, Woolf's hothouse world, thus revealing the full extent of Cunningham's identification with his mentor. And his prose! He is almost eerily fluent in Woolf's exquisitely orchestrated elucidation of the torrent of thoughts, memories, longings, and regrets that surges ceaselessly through the mind. Even if Cunningham's moving tribute served only to steer readers to Woolf's incomparable books, he would deserve praise, but he has accomplished much more than that. He has reaffirmed that Woolf is of lasting significance, that the questions she asked about life remain urgent, and that, in spite of sorrow, pain, and the promise of death, the simplest gestures--walking out the door on a lovely morning, setting a vase of roses on a table--can be, for one shining moment, enough. (Reviewed September 15, 1998)0374172897Donna Seaman"
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review:
"At first blush, the structural and thematic conceits of this novelthree interwoven novellas in varying degrees connected to Virginia Woolfseem 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 gayand dyingfriend, 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. (Nov.) FYI: The Hours was a working title that Woolf for a time gave to Mrs. Dalloway. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved"
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved