Thursday, 18 June 2009

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Title: The Hours

Author: Michael Cunningham

Year: 1998

Plot: The book concerns three generations of women affected by a Virginia Woolf novel.

The first is Woolf herself writing Mrs Dallaway in 1923 and struggling with her own mental illness. The second is Mrs. Brown, wife of a World War II veteran, who is reading Mrs. Dalloway in 1949 as she plans her husband's birthday party. The third is Clarissa Vaughan, a lesbian, who plans a party in 1998 to celebrate a major literary award received by her good friend and former lover, the poet Richard, who is dying of AIDS.

Review: I've been dying to read this for a while as the film is one of my all-time favourites. Each chapter focuses on one of the three women, Mrs Woolf, Mrs Brown, and Mrs Dalloway. The story itself is wonderful. All three women are struggling to cope with how their lives turned out: every day is a new fight from morning until night.

Cunningham's fictional portrayal of Virgnia Woolf is believable - the writer struggled with mental illness for most of her life - and, though it is hard at times to find humanity in the character, one can only speculate that Virginia really was hard to connect with, given her history.

Laura Brown is a 1940s housewife, unhappy with how her life turned out. She resents marrying the war hero: leaving him would be seen as ludacris, though she does admit she accepted his proposal as an act of kindness to the man who'd come back from fighting for his country. Her struggles as with the constant comparisons of how her life has turned out and how she'd like it to be. She wishes for perfection in everything but only seems to get clumsy results.

Clarissa Vaughn was my favourite character from the film. Unfortunately she didn't come close in the book. I think the problem with this book is that Cunningham seems so afraid to push for more depth from his female protagonists. Though this could be seen as a wonderful way of representing the image these women put on for the world, it would have been nice to dive into their soul, to get to the nitty, gritty areas they are desperately trying to hold on to.

Stephen Daldry's film adaptation managed to convey the pain bursting forth in these women and the buckets of energy it took to keep it hidden. Nicole Kidman brought humanity to the mentally ill Virginia. Julianne Moore gave a performance conveying the all-out pain that Laura suffered at the little things affecting her greatly. And Meryl Streep brought life to a seemingly dead character from the novel in Clarissa Vaughn: a modern day version of Mrs Dalloway.

It is very rare I find a film I prefer over the book but, unfortunately, The Hours (film) wins over The Hours (novel). The characters are lacking depth that three extraordinary actresses conveyed. Had I not seen the film, I'd have probably loved the book but having seen the lengths and extremes the actresses went for these characters, the book just gave me a 'blah' feeling. It gave me no extra insight and nothing to hold on to.

Rating: 2**



Amanda said...

I read this a couple years ago because the movie is my all-timee favorite, and was very disappointed. I thought it was badly written, and thought the interconnection between the three women was better portrayed in film form. Not that it necessarily had to be so - I think in a different author's hands it could have been a marvelous book - but Michael Cunningham just didn't pull it off well for me.

My fav character in the movie, btw, was Julianne Moore. I suppose that's probably because I've had young children and am a stay at home mom and understood where her pain was coming from. Her section makes me cry every single time I've watched the movie, and I've watched it, literally, over 100 times.

Ceri said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who was disappointed in the book. I absolutely adore the film.

I totally agree with you about Julianne Moore's character. It's painful to watch her.

I think I connected more with Clarissa because she's a very independent, strong-willed career woman, always trying to stay strong and look after her sick friend but inside she really doesn't know who she is. She relies on the everyday tasks and the opinions of her friends who see her as a good samaritan to create her personality but, deep down, she has no clue how to live life without that.

Then, of course, Nicole Kidman's Virginia. I could go on and on about the three of them. Nicole's Oscar was deserved but, then again, I would have given the other two Oscars too.

It's a wonderful film I feel connected to more and more every time I read it.