Summary and book reviews of The Hours by Michael Cunningham

The Hours

by Michael Cunningham

The Hours
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  • First Published:
    Nov 1998, 230 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2000, 230 pages

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Book Summary

Passionate, profound and deeply moving - Cunningham's most remarkable achievement to date. 1999 Pulitzer Prize Winner.



In The Hours, Michael Cunningham, who is recognized as "one of our very best writers" (Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times), draws inventively on the life and work of Virginia Woolf to tell the story of a group of contemporary characters who are struggling with the conflicting claims of love and inheritance, hope and despair.


The novel opens with an evocation of Woolf's last days before her suicide in 1941, and moves to the stories of two modern American women who are trying to make rewarding lives for themselves in spite of the demands of friends, lovers, and family.


Clarissa Vaughan is a book editor who lives in present-day Greenwich Village; when we meet her, she is buying flowers to display at a party for her friend Richard, an ailing poet who has just won a major literary prize. Laura Brown is a housewife in postwar California who is bringing up her only son and looking for her true life outside of her stifling marriage.


With rare ease and assurance, Cunningham makes the two women's lives converge with Virginia Woolf's in an unexpected and heartbreaking way during the party for Richard. As the novel jump-cuts through the twentieth century, every line resonates with Cunningham's clear, strong, surprisingly lyrical contemporary voice.


Passionate, profound and deeply moving, The Hours is Michael Cunningham's most remarkable achievement to date.


Winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and the 1999 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

Prologue

She hurries from the house, wearing a coat too heavy for the weather. It is 1941. Another war has begun. She has left a note for Leonard, and another for Vanessa. She walks purposefully toward the river, certain of what she'll do, but even now she is almost distracted by the sight of the downs, the church, and a scattering of sheep, incandescent, tinged with a faint hint of sulfur, grazing under a darkening sky. She pauses, watching the sheep and the sky, then walks on. The voices murmur behind her; bombers drone in the sky, though she looks for the planes and can't see them. She walks past one of the farm workers (is his name John?), a robust, small-headed man wearing a potato-colored vest, cleaning the ditch that runs through the osier bed. He looks up at her, nods, looks down again into the brown water. As she passes him on her way to the river she thinks of how successful he is, how fortunate, to be cleaning a ditch in an osier bed. She herself has failed. She is not ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

The questions and discussion topics that follow are designed to enhance your group’s reading of Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. We hope they will give you a number of interesting angles from which to approach this incisive, daring, and deeply affecting new novel, winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award.

In this remarkable book, Cunningham draws inventively on the life and work of Virginia Woolf to tell the story of a group of characters struggling with the conflicting claims of love and inheritance, life and death, creation and destruction. The novel moves along three separate but parallel stories, each focusing on the experiences of a particular woman during the course of one apparently unremarkable but...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Michael Wood

...the overall impression is that of a delicate, triumphant glance, an acknowledgment of Woolf that takes her into Cunningham's own territory, a place of late-century danger but also of treasurable hours.

The Washington Post Book World - Jameson Currier

[Cunningham] has deftly created something original, a trio of richly interwoven tales that alternate with one another chapter by chapter, each of them entering the thoughts of a character as she moves through the small details of a day.... Cunningham's emulation of such a revered writer as Woolf is courageous, and this is his most mature and masterful work.

USA Today - Ann Pritchard

Michael Cunningham's The Hours is that rare combination a smashing literary tour de force and an utterly invigorating reading experience. If this book does not make you jump up from the sofa, looking at life and literature in different ways, check to see if you have a pulse...

The Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review

[Cunningham] has fashioned a fictional instrument of intricacy and remarkable beauty. It is a kaleidoscope whose four shining and utterly unlike pieces--the lives of two fictional characters, of a real writer, and her novel--combine, separate and tumble in continually shifting and startlingly suggestive patterns.

Publishers Weekly

This book more than fulfills the promise of Cunningham's 1990 debut, A Home at the End of the World

Reader Reviews

quetzalcoatl

utter fools
This book is one of the most beautifully written books of the 20th century. It is a masterpiece. Those who call it "boring" or whatever denigrating terms they choose to use are, to be blunt and simple, abject fools. Ignore them. Read this book! ...   Read More

terri

One of the best books I've read all year. The narrative used in the book was interesting and very thiught provoking. I loved it.

Chris Cudzilo

Superb. Michael Cunningham is the greatest male fiction writer of his generation. The constant weaving of three starkly different lives is a literary tour de fource. Profoundly moving and passionate, The Hours is a must-read for those who ...   Read More

laur

To "be" or "not to be"
To live or to die...
Definitely a 5 for insight...I identified so thoroughly (how could a man have written this?)
Kudos to Michael Cunningham...and here is what I got from "The Hours".
*******
...   Read More

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