I absolutely adore reading - my love for books has had a huge impact on my life! I'm going to grad school to be a children's/YA librarian.
Passionate, profound, and deeply moving, The Hours is the story of three women: Clarissa Vaughan, who one New York morning goes about planning a party in honor of a beloved friend; Laura Brown, who in a 1950s Los Angeles suburb slowly begins to feel the constraints of a perfect family and home; and Virginia Woolf, recuperating with her husband in a London suburb, and beginning to write Mrs. Dalloway. By the end of the novel, the stories have intertwined, and finally come together in an act of subtle and haunting grace, demonstrating Michael Cunningham's deep empathy for his characters as well as the extraordinary resonance of his prose (back cover blurb).
Well, this is a perfect example of why I should really pay more attention to the back covers of books so I know what I'm going into. I usually try not to read them (or if I do read them, I don't pay too much attention and skim just enough to get the gist of the story) because I want to avoid spoilers and I find that when I read the back cover, I can usually guess what'll happen once I start reading the book. Anyway, if I had paid a bit closer attention to the back cover of The Hours, I might have realized how essential it is to have read Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway first. I probably would have appreciated this book so much more if I had done that.
As it was, I still feel that I can, to some degree, appreciate this book. Michael Cunningham really does have a way with words. While I might not have always understood what he was talking about (my own fault), I was able to appreciate that he's really a master at writing. I both loved and hated his efforts to convey concepts without outright saying what's going on - for example, he tiptoes around what exactly Richard's illness is before finally saying that it's AIDS, and yet the reader can tell that that's what he has. At other times, this method did cause confusion for me, though. The characters' relationships to one another are a bit complicated, particularly those characters who appear in Clarissa's sections, and since Cunningham didn't explicitly say "Clarissa had a thing with Richard, but Richard also dated Louis and Clarissa's now with Sally - and, btw, she has a daughter named Julia who she conceived via sperm donation," the reader has to kind of pick these things up as they go along. I found this to be confusing to the point of distraction. That being said, perhaps if I wasn't already confused because I hadn't read Mrs. Dalloway, I would've been fine.
But even though I was very confused, I was still able to appreciate Cunningham's writing style. He has some really fantastic phrases in this text and reading them was so satisfying. You don't come across writing like this every day. Here's one quote that I found to be particularly poignant:
'There are still the hours, aren't there? One and then another, and you get through that one, and then, my god, there's another.'
It's especially compelling in context and it perfectly summed up for me how a person who is overwhelmed with depression must feel. I've been fortunate enough to never have suffered from depression, but I've read many books with depressed characters... none have ever pulled on my heartstrings like Richard Brown did when he said this. The empathy that Cunningham is able to convey, even when the reader has not read the book that is absolutely essential to understanding this one, is astounding.
So, even though I didn't particularly enjoy this book, I don't think it's completely fair of me to give it a bad rating since I'm missing a huge chunk of the story since I didn't read Mrs. Dalloway. There is a part of me that's being stubborn and petulant, thinking "Well, I shouldn't have to have read another book by a different author in order to understand this one!" But that book is sort of the whole reason for this one's existence and it does say right on the back cover that Virginia Woolf is a major character in this one, and that her sections take place when she's writing Mrs. Dalloway... so, really, I'm in the wrong here. In fact, had I read Mrs. Dalloway, I'm pretty certain I would've really enjoyed this book since Michael Cunningham is such a good writer. So I'm giving this book a healthy 3.5 star rating, and resolving to revisit it after I've read Virginia Woolf's work. And I should probably reconsider my general practice of skimming books' synopses.