The Hours: Reading Deja Vu

I think I might have read Michael Cunningham’s The Hours before. I know I’ve seen the movie. And I’ve read Mrs. Dalloway a few times. So maybe that’s it. Or maybe the scenes of Mrs. Brown, at home, baking a cake, taking care of her kid, and wishing she was reading just echo my current life too closely?

Whatever the case, whether I read it once, or a few times, I really enjoyed it. I thought I wouldn’t like it because I saw the movie first, and because (somehow) I had it in my head that the movie came first and this was one of those terrible movie-to-book adaptations. Plus my copy of the book from the library had Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep on the cover and I was like ‘oh noooo.’ Proving the adage ‘don’t judge a book blah blah blah’ entirely correct (except sometimes you absolutely should just a book by it’s cover. Like if that book is an orange or red cover you can be sure that someone in marketing thought that all books set on the continent of Africa need to be brightly coloured. So observed in Americanah. I DIGRESS.)

The writing is great. It mirrors Woolf in the somewhat rambling sentences and close attention to detail. Likewise it reveals the interiority of characters both through actions and through a careful description of their thoughts – not in a blatant or obnoxious way, but in such a way as to accept the complexity of their motivations and their inherent opacity to the reader and to themselves.

In case you haven’t seen it or know about it the premise is (and this sounds a bit twee (thanks, C., for teaching me the word ‘twee’) we’re following three characters: Virginia Woolf writing Mrs Dalloway in the 1920s, Clarissa living the plot of Mrs. Dalloway in the 2000s and Mrs. Brown reading Mrs Dalloway in 1949. All three women parallel and overlap in their preoccupation with what makes life meaningful and worth living (as well as subtle, cute little moments of similarity in flowers or scene setting). Their search for some kind of legacy – whether in writing or in parenting – read as sincere and provocative. I found multiple moments in the novel moving and disturbing (again, probably because I’m feeling a particular affinity with a 50s housewife at the moment. That’s not true, that’s too glib. The women here speak to readers (I think) who don’t share the exact circumstances – and part of the success of the three parallel timelines and plots is to prove the universality (at least for middle income white ladies) of this yearning for purpose and impact.

So perhaps you’ve also been hesitant to read it because of the Major Motion Picture connection, or you just let it slip by when it was a big deal. Either way, I do suggest going back to it. Or you probably read it when it first came out and you’re thinking ‘you read it, too, erin, we talked about it ten years ago.’ In which case… sorry.

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Filed under Book Club, British literature, Fiction, Prize Winner

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