Book review: The hours

With the Singapore Writers Festival only a month away, I am already rubbing my hands in anticipation for the annual event, and in the run up to it, I decided to review books whose authors will attend the festival.

The first on my list would be 1999 Pulitzer-prize winner Michael Cunningham and his award-winning book “The Hours.” If you find the title familiar, it has been adapted into a Hollywood flick featuring Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep.

Having never watched the movie before, the novel surpassed my initial expectations to turn out as a deeply moving and emotional read. Cunningham did a magnificent job of weaving three narratives spanning over different time and spaces together by remotely joining them in his prose.

Even more impressively, he was able to dedicate an equal amount of ink to develop the stories of the female protagonists, namely Virginia Woolf, Clarissa Vaughan and Laura Brown, in an almost schizophrenic way that tethered on the edge of fragmentation.
What surprised me was the depth this man has demonstrated of the emotions and minds of women at various stages of their lives, and many of them are admittedly spot-on.

“Why does he desire nothing, really, beyond what he’s already got? He is impenetrable in his ambitions and satisfactions, his love of job and home. This, she reminds herself, is a virtue… It is good, she reminds herself – it is lovely – that her husband cannot be touched by ephemera; that his happiness depends only on the fact of her, here in the house, living her life, thinking of him.”

Expect “The Hours,” to a modernistic, perhaps even post-modernistic, prose that does not fit squarely into a typical narrative, as described by Kurt Vonnegut in “Slaughterhouse-five”:

“There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.”

As a result, the ‘real’ storyline for myself does not lie in the characters’ actions but in their streams of consciousness, where the women reveal their multitudinous thoughts and emotions running through their minds as they go about their daily lives.

These layers of trivial thoughts, such as “(there she is, gray-haired, sharp-faced, sallow [how did she grow so old?] she’s got to get more sun, really.),” are reflections of their unique personalities and help bring the subjects to life.And in line with modernity, the protagonists are also portrayed as counter images to the mainstream feministic representation, constantly struggling to negotiate their roles, identities, sexuality and essentially, their existence.

Yet in face of these big questions, they often deal it with whimsical attitudes, trivializing and shrugging it off with such nonchalance it has a chilling effect at times.

“It is possible to die. Laura thinks, suddenly, of how the – how anyone- can make a choice like that… It could, she thinks, be deeply comforting; it might feel so free: to simply go away. To say to them all, I couldn’t manage, you had no idea; I didn’t want to try anymore…

She is glad to know (for somehow, suddenly, she knows) that is possible to stop living. There is comfort in facing the full range of options; in considering all your choices fearlessly and without guile.”

Having enjoyed this novel thoroughly, I am certainly looking forward to meeting Michael Cunningham in person during the Singapore Writers Festival.

Here are some links if you want to know more about the event:
My 2011 experience at the Singapore Writers Festival
Official website of the Singapore Writers Festival
Ticketing website to buy the festival’s pass

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4 thoughts on “Book review: The hours

  1. The Hours is one of those books I return to read again each year. The way the three narratives echo each other is so cunning and delicious. The writing has the clarity of a mountain brook, the emotions beneath the surface magnified and then brought to the surface.

  2. What really made this book such an great reading experience was that the idea that the very definition of sanity can vary from person to person. The stream of consciousness technique was utilized brilliantly to explore existential themes as we progress through the story. One of the best books i have ever read.

  3. I really enjoyed your review of “The Hours.” I did see the movie, and enjoyed it well enough. I am sure that at the time my interest had more to do with the wonderful casting of roles. But like almost all movies that come from a novel, the script ran thin and I am sure the novel is quite rich. Your review is outstanding, and I will get a copy today. The festival will be exciting, I’m sure. I’ll look for your review of the festival! 🙂 Debra

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