Book Review x2: The Hours by Michael Cunningham and Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Synopsis of The Hours: A day in the lives of three women: Clarissa Vaughan: a modern-day Clarissa Dalloway living in New York City, Laura Brown: a Los Angeles housewife in 1949 who is reading Mrs. Dalloway, and Virginia Woolf: writing Mrs. Dalloway in a suburb of London in 1923

Synopsis of Mrs. Dalloway: Clarissa Dalloway prepares for a party in London, June 1923.

Review: I first read Mrs. Dalloway a few months ago, and I struggled so much with that book. I picked it up because it was a book I felt I “should” read because it is a classic, and so many people just love it. I did not love it. In fact, I hated it. Well, hate is a strong word – I just didn’t get it. At all. I had to force myself to finish the book, and I only made it to the end because I kept thinking that it must get better and there must be a reason so many people just love the book! Perhaps if I was in a literature class and was really studying it and pulling out the themes and discussing it with like-minded people then I would really get a lot out of it and my experience would be enriched. But as a casual reader, I just didn’t want to take the time to understand it. So perhaps the fault is mine. Or even it is that I was not meant to read Mrs. Dalloway at the time I did.

With The Hours, on the other hand, I immediately loved it. Michael Cunningham won The Pulitzer Prize for this novel and it’s easy to see why. I love how Cunningham writes – as if every word has meaning and a purpose. I felt the anguish and grief and turmoil within the characters right away. Each of the main characters (Clarissa, Laura, and Virginia) all look at their lives and are unsatisfied, they each feel that there could’ve been and can be more. They each take different avenues at the end towards happiness, or what they perceive as happiness.

The book follows the course of one day in the lives of three women. Clarissa Vaughan is preparing for a party she is throwing for her writer best friend, who is dying of AIDS. Laura Brown is preparing for her husband’s birthday dinner. And Virginia Woolf is starting to write her novel, Mrs. Dalloway. How these stories are interwoven together is nicely done and easy to follow. Mrs. Dalloway is really the key here, as Clarissa’s friend calls her “Mrs. Dalloway” (and she is literally living the plot of Mrs. Dalloway), Laura Brown is reading Mrs. Dalloway, and Virginia Woolf is writing it.

I watched the movie that was based on the book starring Nicole Kidman (who won an Oscar for her role as Virginia Woolf), Julianne Moore, and Meryl Streep a long time ago when it first came out. I remember liking the movie, and thinking that I should read the book, but it didn’t really resonate with me – the only thing I remember about the movie is the scene with the amazing Julianne Moore (who plays Laura Brown) and her son where they are baking a cake for her husband’s birthday. I’ll need to re-watch the movie and see if I get more out of it.

The ending of The Hours is extremely powerful and I was very glad that I had read Mrs. Dalloway prior to reading it. I don’t know if I hadn’t read Mrs. Dalloway if that would affect my reading and appreciation of The Hours. Probably. But I do know that reading The Hours has inspired me to give Mrs. Dalloway another chance…. in a few years… I’m not in that much of a hurry to re-read it. But I could read The Hours over and over again.

Bottom Line for The Hours: Wonderful read. Full of beautiful sentences and a celebration of life and what it means to be alive. Definitely worth reading!

Bottom Line for Mrs. Dalloway: Not a thick book, but definitely not a quick read. I’m borderline “only read if forced to in school” about this one. But everyone’s opinion is different. I’m curious to see if my opinion will be the same if I re-read it in 10 years (or longer – I really had to force myself to finish it the first time).

You might like:

  • Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner: Another Pulitzer Prize winner in which the writing just flows and you become immersed in the page.

Books added to my own Leaning Tower of books to be read:

  • Specimen Days and The Snow Queen both by Michael Cunningham – I really enjoyed Cunningham’s writing style and want to read more of his books. These two sounded the most interesting to me.
  • To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf – another Woolf classic
  • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf – I simply must re-read this….at some point …

What do you think? Did anyone read Mrs. Dalloway and like me, feel disappointed? Or do you love Mrs. Dalloway? Does anyone hate The Hours but like Mrs. Dalloway? Anyone dislike both, love both?


4 thoughts on “Book Review x2: The Hours by Michael Cunningham and Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

  1. I did read Mrs. Dalloway in a literature class…and I hated it–you’re not alone! I love reading (most) classic literature, but this was not one that I enjoyed even the slightest. Reading Mrs. Dalloway was sort of like reading a dream, but one that makes absolutely no sense and that I have no desire to recall once I wake up.

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  2. I see that The Snow Queen is based on a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale; perhaps read both together? I, too, read Mrs. Dalloway years ago and tried to re-read it recently, and then thought why finish a book I am not really enjoying. I agree that discussion about a book can bring more out than I perhaps may have picked up; why book clubs are so interesting!

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    1. Interesting about Hans Christian Anderson. I think that was also the inspiration for Disney’s Frozen … thanks for the tip! I just looked it up on Amazon, and it looks like the fairy tales are a free download for Kindle. There’s another great free Kindle download that I’m working my way through titled “Fairy Tales Every Child Should Know”, but no Snow Queen in that one.

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