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Book reviews, Pullitzer, Booker, Costa and Children's Book reviews
Prize Winning Fiction
Prize Winning Fiction

1999 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction Winner

The Hours by Michael Cunningham


Publisher: Harper Perennial

Length: 240 pages

About: Virgina Woolf and two modern US women

Style: 3rd person

Where: England & US

When: 1920s - 1990s



Publisher’s synopsis:

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 ironic smile."

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 York.


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Age guide: 12






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2016 Pulitzer Prize Winner

It's a massive day in arts and journalism because the 100th annual Pulitzer Prize winners were just announced, and there's a big surprise. 2015's best artistic and nonfiction writing across 21 categories were recognized during a ceremony Monday afternoon at Columbia University in New York City. The first Pulitzer Prize was awarded to Hebert Bayward Swope, a reporter for The New York World, in 1916. (And if you're as big a fan of Newsies as I am, that paper should ring a bell, but try to think of it more positively.)

The major prize for book nerds, the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction went to The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Press), a legitimate surprise, if you've been paying attention to the book nerd and industry buzz. The feeling around the prize in the last few months would have you putting all your hard-earned cash down on A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara to take home the award, but that's why you should never gamble. Viet Thanh Nguyen is no less deserving, and moreover, it's his debut novel, which makes it such a wonderful win.

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