Book & DVD Review – The Hours By Michael Cunningham

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Today I am cheating a little and doing a joint review as after reading the book again for my 1001 Books Challenge I pulled the film from the shelf and watched it again.

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In some way by now it is hard to imagine that anyone would not have read this but just in case I really will try to be careful to not give too many spoilers.

The book tell the story of three separate days, each set years apart and in different places but intrinsically entwined.  On a day in 1920’s London Virginia Woolf begins writing a new novel while in 1990’s New York Clarissa Vaughan plans a party and somewhere in between Laura Brown plans her husbands birthday dinner and reads her copy of Mrs Dalloway.

Before I start I need to say I am really biased as this is my favourite example of Intertextuality ever.  The film for the main part stays faithful to the book with only minor deviations so I shall discuss the actually book and DVD simultaneously then just add a little regarding the casting of the film.

Cunningham has woven a complex time-line jumping from one character to the next within the space of one day between what at first glance seem to be three totally separate events and time-lines. Three women who you believe would and could never meet yet two of the three will have their lives significantly affected by the third a woman dead long before they ever learned her name.  The common phrase now in use of ‘six degrees of separation’ is demonstrated so well in this book how the very writing of a book can change the life of the person who picks it up and subsequently effect generations to come.  In a very real way Cunningham perpetuates this by in turn creating a book which will lead you to meet not only his characters but to also delve into the world and works of Woolf which in turn will lead you back to reread this book armed with the new knowledge you have gained.  I came to this book with a knowledge of Woolf and the novel she is portrayed writing which is of course Mrs Dalloway another book telling the story of one day from a woman’s life a day which Cunningham mirrors in the events of Clarissa Vaughan’s day.

This story really does lend itself perfectly to the visual component of film, while it can occasionally take a line or two to establish which character is taking prominence in the book in the film it is of course immediately obvious, not only by character but by the cinematography which is altered slightly to create a real period feel for the different era’s.  I was a little concerned regarding the casting of Nicole Kidman for Virginia Woolf but I can hand on heart say that my concerns were totally unfounded.  The make up was amazing to the point where it was almost impossible to recognise her which allowed her acting talent to shine through and allow the viewer to forget it was an actress they playing the author were watching.  Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore put in outstanding performances as the other two lead characters but for me Kidman steals the show.

The book and the film both deal with the main theme of relationships and the ways which people lose themselves by trying to live for others, issues are raised regarding the ravages of both physical and mental illnesses both upon the sufferer and those who care about them.  I don’t think I give anything away when I talk about the point where Virginia Woolf dies this is an actual historical fact so we are all aware I should imagine of how it occurred I have to say that both the book and film deal with this subject beautifully, tragic yet poignant I confess that a few tears were shed at this point not just for the terrible tragic event itself but for us, for what we lost because mental illness destroyed such an amazing woman at such a relatively young age.  One can only speculate upon the works of genius she may have created had the dark shadows not descended so frequently and severely.

If by some strange chance you have been in a coma for years or have just arrived from another planet here is the trailer for the film.

I give both book and film 5 out of 5 and would give 6 if I could

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5 comments on “Book & DVD Review – The Hours By Michael Cunningham

  1. Pingback: Our own Paula Acton gives a book review for “The Hours”, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Cunningham…:) « Thomas Rydder

  2. I wouldn’t consider such strategy cheating, Paula, if your intentions are to learn on how to create dramatic plot as displayed in the book and the movie, or to see the extent of differences between the movie and the book. In my view, it is totally different from reading for pleasure where our real intention is to please ourselves with reading the book. So I guess it is okay to do that.

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  3. I was in a coma and also just arrived from another planet. I’m sorry to say I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, and I hadn’t a clue what it was about. Thank you for the review. I’m definitely going to watch the movie as I’ll never catch up with my reading as it is.

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