Friday, March 8, 2013
The Hours by Michael Cunningham
Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Fourth Estate, 1999
In 1920’s London, Virginia Wolf’s rebellious spirit is fighting against her madness as she attempts to make a start on her new novel. Two decades later, a young wife and mother, broiling in a suburb of Los Angeles, yearns to escape and read her precious coy of Mrs. Dalloway. And Clarissa Vaughan roams Greenwich Village in 1990’s New York to buy flowers for a party she is hosting for a dying poet.
Moving across the decades and between England and America, this novel intertwines the stories of three unforgettable heroines, refracted through the prism of a single day. Cunningham brings these women’s lives together in a creative way, and with rare skill.
Thought I am not an enthusiastic fan of Cunningham’s other novels, I can sum The Hours up in one word: Brilliant.
Cunningham paints vivid portraits of three women in three distinctly different times and settings. Their lives resonate with association as Cunningham explores the ideas of duty, sexuality, aesthetic creativity, the boundaries between sanity and madness, and suicide.
The prose shimmers with the grace of a ballet. The connections between the three storylines are both subtle and powerful. The author has produced a work that can only be regarded as high art. It is moving, intelligent, and unforgettable. It has a number of gay characters and touches on gay themes without being a gay story.
This is my third reading, and I’m sure I’ll continue to return to it again and again.