The Hours follows a day in the lives of three women: Clarissa Vaughan, known fondly as ‘Mrs Dalloway’ by her closest friend, is planning a party one New York morning; Laura Brown, living in a Los Angeles suburb in the 1950s, struggles to maintain her conventional position as mother and wife to her perfect family; and Virginia Woolf who, recovering in a London suburb after a bout of depression, is writing Mrs Dalloway. The book’s chapters alternate between these three characters, linking them through parallel emotions, themes and details. Although written in the third person, the book seems almost wholly from the perspectives of the protagonists: each character’s consciousness is personably imparted, giving a commentary on the events happening in the book whilst offering an insight into the character’s personality.
The Hours is beautifully, eloquently written; Cunningham adopts extended metaphors that are not only pleasing, but also accurate. Perhaps his writing was influenced by Woolf’s, as it is vivid, metaphorical and slow-paced, reminiscent of her distinctive writing style. This book reveals another dimension of Virginia Woolf, who is not just a famous intellectual figure but was also a troubled woman, battling with depression. The protagonists are ambitious and clever, yet damaged, albeit to different extents. In particular, Brown and Woolf both struggle to act ‘normal’, to effortlessly keep up appearances. At times, they comment in admiration at other women’s abilities to act accordingly in every situation. They obsessively seek perfection, driven to madness by the idea that they are irreparably flawed. The theme of sexuality, as something to be rebelliously explored, is touched on when Laura, and later Virginia, spontaneously kisses a woman; it is described as a ‘forbidden pleasure’. This act of ‘rebellion’ is ironic, as it contradicts the characters’ desire to act appropriately.
This book questions the meaning of life; it ponders what is ‘enough’ for a person to have lived a happy, successful life. Although it doesn’t directly answer this question, it does suggest that the hours in one’s life spent being happy, with someone that they love are ‘enough’; this notion of ‘enough’ is synonymous with happiness and contentedness.
I would recommend The Hours to readers who enjoy Woolf’s writing style, and are interested in her life. They would also enjoy this book if they don’t mind a somewhat slow-paced book about the everyday lives of troubled women.
My Ratings (out of 10 As):