So a couple of weeks ago I finished “The Hours”, a novel by Michael Cunningham. A movie, of the same name was adapted from the novel in the early 2000s (the film is excellent and a must see for those of you who haven’t seen it yet) and is one of the reasons why I decided to pick it up from a book sale at my local library. The book follows the story of three different women in three different time periods -The first woman is Virginia Woolf who resides in the English country side in the early 1900s, the second woman is Laura Brown who is a housewife in the 1950s and the last woman is Clarissa Vaughn, who lives in modern times(1990s). All three of these women share a connection that transcends generations, linked to the life and work of Woolf. It is an interesting set up, one that is creative and effective in telling a compelling story. Virginia Woolf is in the process of writing her acclaimed work, Mrs. Dalloway, while dealing with her mental illness and the confines of her life in the countryside. What is unique about this novel is that Woolf and her actions are the centerpiece of the novel; the other two women ae reflections of Woolf and her book. Laura is in the process of preparing for her husband’s birthday, making a cake and buying the gifts . Clarissa is preparing a party for her close friend Richard, who will be receiving an award before the party. In Mrs. Dalloway, the main character is going about her daily life but the focus is on her preparations for a house party. Cunningham goes as far as to even have Laura reading Mrs. Dalloway and Richard calling Clarissa Mrs. Dalloway. This is just scratching the surface though.
Beyond the surface and the physical actions reflected by the women, there is an analytic study going on. Underneath the connection between Virginia’s work and the other two women, there is a connection between their psyches. The novel attempts to make a larger connection, one that not only connects the different characters to each other but also connects the meaning of time in relation to everyday lives. Virginia Woolf is dealing with terrible mental illness, feeling trapped and caged within her own body and within her life. Laura and Clarissa feel trapped in different ways; Laura goes a little crazy being confined to the house and to her house keeping duties. She has a want for more in life, more vibrance and freedom, reflecting what Virginia feels about her own situation. Clarissa’s former lover Richard has AIDS and is also suffering from mental illness, which is depressing and frustrating for Clarissa. The hours in a day matter to these characters; they look at life and see the long hours and days ahead of them and it frightens them. What to do with this time, how is one supposed to get through hardships when the time just stretches on and on- this is what brings Virginis Woolf and Richard to commit suicide. They can’t go on living with endless hours ticking away, while they sit and allow their body and mind to wither away. Laura plans to do it, but ends up running away instead. Time and the characters’ desire to understand it, is very important in this novel. There is one moment in the book where Clarissa is talking to her girlfriend and she says that she thought she knew happiness at one point in time, she thought she finally found it for good. But she realizes that it wasn’t the start of some great length of joy, but just a moment in time. I think that the novel tackles the big question of the purpose of life in relativity to time, wonderfully. It was a beautiful book, with excellent writing and a very real theme. I connected with what the characters were going through and with their thoughts on life. I came away from this book with a new take on life and some questions to ask myself. What do we keep living for, struggling for. The characters come to realize it’s just looking “life in the face, always, to look life in the face and to know it for what it is. At last to know it, to love it for what it is, and then, to put it away…… always the years. Always the love. Always the hours.”