Publisher: Harper Perennial
Length: 240 pages
About: Virgina Woolf and two modern US women
Style: 3rd person
Where: England & US
When: 1920s - 1990s
Exiled in Richmond in the 1920s, taken from her beloved Bloomsbury and lovingly watched over by her husband Leonard, Virginia Woolf struggles to tame her rebellious mind and make a start on her
new novel. In the brooding heat of 1940s Los Angeles, a young wife and mother yearns to escape the claustrophobia of suburban domesticity and read her precious copy of Mrs Dalloway. And in New York
in the 1990s, Clarissa Vaughan steps out of her smart Greenwich Village apartment and goes shopping for flowers for the party she is giving in honour of her life-long friend Richard, an award-winning
poet whose mind and body are being ravaged by AIDS. These are the characters in Michael Cunningham’s new novel, which takes Woolf’s life and work as inspiration for a meditation on artistic
behaviour, failure, love and madness. Moving effortlessy across the decades and between England and America, Cunningham’s elegant, haunting prose explores the pain and trauma of creativity and the
immutable relationship between writer and reader.
Leonard goes upstairs to the sitting room to listen to the news. He finds a blue envelope, addressed to him, on the table. Inside is a letter.
Dearest,I feel certain that I am going mad again:
I feel we can't go through another of these terrible times.
And I shan't recover this time.
I begin to hear voices, and can't concentrate.
So I am doing what seems the best thing to do.
You have given me the greatest possible happiness.
You have been in every way all that anyone could be.
I don't think two people could have been happier till
this terrible disease came.
I can't fight it any longer, I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know.
You see I can't even write this properly. I can't read.
What I want to say is that I owe all the happiness of my life to you.
You have been entirely patient with me & incredibly good.
I want to say that--everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you.
Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness.
I can't go on spoiling your life any longer.
I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been.
V.Leonard races from the room, runs downstairs. He says to the maid, "I think something has happened to Mrs. Woolf. I think she may have tried to kill herself. Which way did she go? Did you see her
leave the house?"
The Hours should seem paltry and gimmicky next to its great predecessor. It turns out to be engrossing, imaginative and humane. It will probably work nearly as well if you don't know its source,
with narrative cross-references springing shocks where, for those familiar with Mrs Dalloway, the surprise is at Cunningham's deftness and ingenuity.
The Observer 3rd January 1999
Not so good:
There are times in "The Hours" when Cunningham follows Woolf's cadences too closely: "Here she is then, Clarissa thinks"; "Here, then, is the party." The effect is one of pastiche rather than of
being haunted. There are moments too when the writing doesn't rise to its own challenges, merely gesturing toward the feelings on offer: "She is sad for him, and strangely moved. She manages an
The New York Times, Michael Wood, 22nd November 1998
About the author
He was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on November 6, 1952 and grew up in Pasadena, California. He studied English literature at Stanford University where he earned his degree. Later, at the
University of Iowa, he received a Michener Fellowship and was awarded a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. While studying at Iowa, he had short stories published in the
Atlantic Monthly and the Paris Review. His short story, "White Angel", was later used as a chapter in his novel A Home at the End of the World. he now lives in New