|Purchase: Amazon | Chapters|
Length: 226 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction
Start Date: Spring 2009
Finished Date: Spring 2009
Where Found: Chapters-Indigo
Why Read: The movie was amazing and I was interested in comparing it to the novel.
Summary: Told from three distinct perspectives and time periods, Clarissa in the present day is planning a party for her author friend dying of AIDS, Laura, a pregnant 1950s housewife feels stressed by her life choices; and Virginia Woolf is penning Mrs. Dalloway and contemplating herself in the midst of mental instability.
I’ve never before or since read such a full novel written in just over 200 pages. Each sentence has purpose, foresight, and a rich depth of language that sets a textured tone flowing consistently, even miraculously, over three characters separated by time and place, yet connected via their interest in and the effect that Mrs. Dalloway has on them.
Despite the potential for depressing subject matter (some may argue it is ever present), the interconnectedness of the central women characters strengthens and accounts for it. Clarissa, a Dalloway namesake, sorts out her conflicted feelings for her dying friend Richard and her partner Sally, with whom she has a daughter. Laura, married to a white bread husband who means well but whom she does not love with an impressionable young son reassesses her life choices. And there is Virginia Woolf, companionate to husband Leonard but sexually divided and self-aware of her declining mental health and need for finality that she comes to via Mrs. Dalloway.
How Cunningham brings three distinct stories to light through a common literary connection is remarkable. Then he goes further by making a startling connection between Clarissa and Laura that will make their struggles clearer and more consequential as the novel ends on a sad note but a necessary one.
I am by no means the type of reader that reads depressing novels regularly. I would not categorize The Hours that way (Mrs. Dalloway may be another story). It’s not even the type of novel that creates depressing characters or disturbing experiences in order to inspire readers to persevere and tackle the tough stuff head on. The Hours is poetic, thoughtful, and dense without being preachy. It paints themes of alienation, femininity, and grievance like a porcelain vase—there is an apparent frailty that resists breaking through a solid but tipping base existing in not just one but three characters. The structure and language of the novel is just exquisite.
Rank: (A+)- A must-read