08 May 2010

Bibliophilic Book challenge: The Hours by Michael Cunningham

This book perfectly fits the Bibliophilic Books challenge. Not only is one of the characters preoccupied with reading a novel, but another character is busy writing the same novel, and the third main character is preparing a party to honour a writer friend who has won a literary award.

Year published: 1998
Genre: Novel
Setting & time: New York, end of the 20th century; London, 1923; Los Angeles, 1949.

The lives of three women, separated from each other by decades, are intertwined and mirrored by each other, as each goes about her business on a single day. Clarissa, nick-named Mrs. Dalloway by the friend she is preparing a party for, goes out to buy flowers; Virginia Woolf, in a London suburb, is living in fear of the return of her migraines, writing Mrs. Dalloway and longing to move back into the city; and Laura Brown, in L.A., is straining against the ordinariness of her life, reading Mrs. Dalloway and trying to be a good wife and mother but wanting something else.

The narrative alternates between the three women, and as you get into the story, you see their lives and actions as mirrors or what-if’s of each other, and occasionally they cast long shadows that affect the others. The language is smooth, soft and detailed and the descriptions are sensuous and at times you wonder where the story is going, if it’s going to be another one of those open-ended, resolutionless literary novels, or if there is going to be a climax and a satisfying denouement. But the resolution does come, and you close the book, satisfied by a mostly pleasant but still thought-provoking read.

Rating: An excellent and beautifully written literary novel. 4+ stars.

Epilogue:
From what I have read about this novel, it is an echoing of or a tribute to Mrs. Dalloway, so the logical action would be to read that next. If I had read it first, I am certain I would have done what I always do when I read a book after I have seen a movie based on it, namely to compare, even look for similarities. I can’t help doing this, but more than once it has diminished my enjoyment of a book, so I am glad I read this first. Mrs. Dalloway is going on the TBR list, but it might still be years until I get around to reading it.

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