My Reading Adventure: The Hours

I just finished The Hours, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Michael Cunningham, which has been on my TBR list for years. But I never got around to it because, until recently, I hadn’t got around to a necessary pre-read: Mrs. Dalloway (or so I thought, read my recent blog review on Mrs. Dalloway here).

But finally, after seeing that Mrs. Dalloway was the most recent pick for Knopf Doubleday’s #howhaveInotreadthis book club, and that Michael Cunningham would lead the book club discussion, I finally decided I couldn’t put off reading Mrs. Dalloway and the Hours any longer.

And I am so glad I finally read these. Not only are both books fantastic for so many reasons (beautiful prose, profound themes, refreshing style and structure) but Cunningham’s breakdown of Mrs. Dalloway, which is still available on Youtube, literally brought me to tears. Additionally, his analysis of Mrs. Dalloway illuminated nuances and meaning in The Hours that I hadn’t picked up on – it helped me better understand The Hours as so much more than just a retelling or historical fictional, and more as a modern day commentary or reflection on the themes and messages of Mrs. Dalloway (on joy and sadness, on life and death, on success and failure).

Oh, and I can’t end without saying that I also took the time to watch the Academy Award-winning film adaptation of The Hours, which I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend. It stars Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, and Julianne Moore, and is incredibly faithful to Michael Cunningham’s original plot.

And if you needed yet another form of media to combine with this wonderful literary adventure, I’d recommend listening to Phillip Glass’s motion picture soundtrack / score for this The Hours. I’ve played it while writing or studying for many years, and was glad to finally watch the film that inspired it.

So this was my enlightening, fun, bookish adventure: I read Mrs. Dalloway and The Hours. I tuned into the Knopf Doubleday book club discussion of both on Youtube. I watched The Hours (film) and listened to The Hours (soundtrack).

And in the end I would ten for ten recommend them all.

The Memorable Mrs. Dalloway

I’ve been meaning to read Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway for ages, and I seem to recall starting several times before putting it down a few pages in. So I was very surprised to see my handwriting in the margins throughout my copy of the book. Apparently, I had read it cover to cover, and apparently, it was all over my head in those days – judging from the notes themselves (high school me wrote down a lot of “huh?” and “umm?”), and also from the fact that I didn’t remember much about the book at all.

So as I went through this time, I had two questions in mind. First, was this book really, in fact, as memorable as a “classic” is supposed to be? And (secondly) if so, why didn’t I remember it?

And I definitely got both answers.

What this book as memorable as a “classic” is supposed to be? Yes. A resounding yes. In particular, I thought it was memorable for two main reasons. First, this book is amazing because it was clearly so ahead of its time in it’s depiction of certain subject matter, like the disturbing depiction of PTSD and negligent practices used to treat it, or the dynamics of class relations in a post-WWI society.

Secondly, I’ll never forget the fresh, modernist style employed in Woolf’s writing. I’ve heard her compared to James Joyce for her use of stream-of-consciousness, but I think that Woolf doesn’t go quite as far as Joyce, and for me it was easier to follow. Mrs. Dalloway, specifically, has a cinematic quality that I haven’t encountered in a novel before (one minute, you’re behind the camera, following a character through the park, then you pass another character on the sidewalk and turn the camera to follow them… until gradually you have an idea of all the characters, all the critical places, the ways their lives intersect). And Woolf’s fantastic style leads me to my second question.

So then, why didn’t I remember it? Well, quite simply, this is not an easy read. It was over my teenage reading level (if its being compared to Joyce, you know it’s not a piece of cake to read). Following this narrative takes a lot more focus and effort than most contemporary best-sellers, and even more than other classics written in the same era. But also, as I mentioned before, Woolf takes on some very heavy and complex themes in this book (e.g. PTSD, class, love, death, time, etc.) and she does it with extreme subtly – there are no grandiose speeches that clarify character perspectives, there are no overt demonstrations of character transformation. The reader has to read closely to pick up on these themes and Woolf’s messages related to each.

All in all, this is a lovely piece of literature and it’s no wonder to me now why it is considered by so many to be an essential work within the Western literary cannon. The last thing I’ll say is that I was inspired to read this book after learning of the A.A. Knopf publishing house’s #howhaveinotreadthis book club. In February, Mrs. Dalloway was their book club pick, and the month’s book club host was Michael Cunningham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hours (my next read!), and you can still find the book club discussion on youtube!

Buy the books (Mrs. Dalloway and The Hours).
#HowHaveINotReadThis Book Club discussion of Mrs. Dalloway.

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