The Hours - Michael Cunningham | Guest review by Andrew for Lesbian Teen Novels Week

This is the last review for the Lesbian Teen Novels Week hosted here.
If you would like more information about the week,

When I asked around if people wanted to write guest reviews for the week,
Andrew from The Pewter Wolf volunteered with this book.
It isn't per se a young adult novel, but I can remember devouring Virginia Woolf's books and loving the film version of The Hours when I was in high school so I thought it was a perfect choice to finish this week. One book which is one of the many possibilities you can read to develop your literary tastes as well as make you think. It seems fitting that teenagers read about the importance of one moment's choice.


When Portrait of the Woman asked on Twitter if anyone would like to take part in Lesbian Teen Novel Week, I was quite excited and thought it would be cool and interesting idea to take part in. Now, after a few hours of trying to think of a novel that uses lesbian characters as lead characters (It was too soon to reread Huntress by Malinda Lo [which, I thought, was a wonderful fantasy story with a lovely romance] and I didn't have a copy of The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson [which I heard is a very good read!]), I decided to reread my copy of The Hours by Michael Cunningham (which doesn’t technically come under “Lesbian Teen Novel” but I asked if this was okay to read).

The Hours follows a day in the lives of three women in three different time zones, each unrelated to the other yet whose lives are intertwined by one event: a book. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. We follow the day in the life of the author, the reader and the character. Virginia Woolf is starting to write Mrs Dalloway in the early 20th century, Laura Brown is reading Mrs Dalloway in 1960s America and Clarissa Vaughan (who is nicknamed Mrs Dalloway) is going to throw a party that evening in late 1990s New York City.

I first read this just before the film based on this book came out in 2003 and, at the time, I really enjoyed this book. It was so different to what I have read before and the ideas of writing an ordinary day in the lives of three seemingly ordinary women was interesting. No wonder it won awards like the Pulitzer Prize (which at the time - and now, actually - I still don’t truly understand).
But now, rereading and rewatching the movie in 2011, I am beginning to doubt my memory of the book as things are creeping up that I had not noticed before.
I understand what the book is trying to do. It’s trying to write what can happen within a moment and how important a day can be to a person who makes decisions that could and would change your life forever. Basically, Michael Cunningham is doing the same thing Virginia Woolf did within Mrs Dalloway.

But it seems to me, the second time I read this, that it fell a tad flat. There are times when it feels like the book is repeating itself. There was a chapter where we follow Virginia Woolf where she goes into her bathroom and washes her face. Within the one paragraph, we are told three times that she washes her face and doesn’t look in the mirror.

However, the book becomes interesting the further you read. The last five or six chapters are my fave as it all comes to a head as is the prologue which has no real impact to the story but if you know the life story of Virginia Woolf, it makes sense and rings true.

Now, let’s touch on the subject of love. With the story where we follow Virginia Woolf and Laura Brown, both are married and both kiss a woman. But it’s Clarissa’s story that tackles her being a lesbian. She is in a relationship with her partner, Sally, for over several years and she has a straight daughter. Most of her friends that we meet are gay or bisexual and nothing about this felt sensation. It felt normal. Clarissa and Sally have been a couple for years and they acted like a couple for years. Under the new laws that has happened in the state of New York, it wouldn’t surprise me if they were a married couple. It felt like I was reading a typical couple. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Now, the film. I do like the film. I think I prefer the film to the book, but of course, things have changed from the book version of the Hours to the film version of The Hours. For example, Laura Brown goes to a hotel. In the book, she goes there to escape the “failure” of the birthday cake she has made and to have think to herself. It is only there where she realises how easy it would be to die. How easily it would be to kill herself. In the film, however, she goes to the hotel with the idea of killing herself in mind. It’s only after a nightmare of drowning that she changes her mind.

But, out of the two, I would say watch the film. Meryl Streep can’t seem to do anything wrong!


Thank you Andrew for this lovely review!
I will go and grab a copy at the library, I love the idea of it being a re-creation of Mrs Dalloway!

1 comment:

  1. I read the book a couple of years ago and would agree that watching the film would be more better.