Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Hours ~ by Michael Cunningham, 1998

I finished reading The Hours by Michael Cunningham (1998) today and can't say I particularly like this book. Is that faint praise, or what? I do like the writing, like this description of water on page 9:
" the edge of the pool, watching the turquoise water lapping at the tiles, the liquid nets of sun wavering in the blue depths."
On the other hand, it was hard for me to keep the three protagonists straight in my mind. When I was over halfway through the book, I finally decided to jot down on paper what I knew about them -- Mrs. Dalloway, Mrs. Woolf, and Mrs. Brown, as each section is labeled.
Clarissa Vaughan was nicknamed "Mrs. Dalloway" by her friend Richard. She lives in New York City in the 1990s.

Virginia Woolf is in the process of writing the book Mrs. Dalloway. She is living in a suburb of London, and it is 1923.

Laura Brown, who is reading Mrs. Dalloway, is the mother of a boy named Richie. She lives in Los Angeles in 1949.
So the reader must keep in mind three women, three towns, and three historical periods.  All three are planning parties of one sort or another -- Mrs. Dalloway (Clarissa) is planning a party for her friend Richard who is getting an award for his poetry; Mrs. Woolf is planning lunch for her sister Vanessa and her children; Mrs. Brown is planning a family party for her husband's birthday, which includes baking him a cake.  She is so unhappy with the cake that she throws it in the garbage and bakes another one.  Still not happy, she gets someone to babysit with her son Richie and drives off, going nowhere in particular (there's a lot of that going on in the book).  She checks into a hotel to read her book (don't ask -- it's complicated).  Don't forget that the book she's reading is Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway.
Here is her room then:  a turquoise room, not surprising or unusual in any way, with a turquoise spread on the double bed ... She is so far away from her life.  It was so easy.  It seems, somehow, that she has left her own world and entered the realm of the book.  Nothing could be further from Mrs. Dalloway's London than this turquoise hotel room..." (pp. 149-150).
See how it gets confusing? I had to stop and think if "Mrs. Dalloway" referred to the book, to the Mrs. Dalloway character in the book she's reading, or to the protagonist of THIS book who is sometimes called "Mrs. Dalloway" by her friend. And what's with the turquoise? It was only when I copied this quote from the book that I noticed the color is the same as the water (see the first quote above). I started wondering if the color turquoise had some special meaning, but if it did I didn't discover it.

Richard, the friend of "Mrs. Dalloway" (who is actually Clarissa, which is the name of the protagonist in Virginia Woolf's book), does something at the end of the book that seems crazy. As I try, now, to figure out the meaning of the ending, I can't help wondering if the author wants us to blame the women in his life. Can we? Should we? Did he? Did they blame themselves?

Rated: 7 of 10, because I'll probably think about this one for awhile. Some of the images will continue to run through my mind, but not a one of them is turquoise.

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