THE HOURS by Michael Cunningham

Reviewed by Dorothy Rainier, Friday Morning Book Group

The Hours (February 6, 2004) The Hours, winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, tells three separate but parallel stories, each focusing on one woman during the course of one significant day. One story involves Virginia Woolf, as she begins to write Mrs. Dalloway and struggles with her choices as a writer and with her own mental illness. Another centers on Laura Brown, a Los Angeles housewife in 1949, who is reading Mrs. Dalloway and facing conflict in her roles as wife and mother. The third major character Clarissa Vaughan, a present-day book editor, is organizing a party for her friend Richard, who is suffering from AIDS-related dementia.

Laura Our discussion was a lively one. A major theme was parent-child relationships, demonstrated by Laura's inability to come to terms with her role and her use of using reading as an escape and as part of a search for answers. The connection between mental illness and creativity was also discussed, as were the factors influencing sexual orientation.

Some found the interwoven stories confusing and the characters unsympathetic and difficult to differentiate. We agreed that one's appreciation of the novel was enhanced by reading Mrs. Dalloway. Seeing the recent movie also added to one's understanding of the various people and events in the book.

Mrs. Dalloway Most considered The Hours a cleverly constructed homage to Virginia Woolf in which themes and incidents from her book were recast, retold and shuffled around. It centered on "perfect moments" in people's lives and caused us to wonder whether such moments are significant to all of us. Several of us wanted to learn more about Virginia Woolf, enjoyed the vivid descriptions of sensory experiences, and felt that the writer helped to broaden our understanding of the nature of love.

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