Winner of the 1999 Pulitzer and Pen/Faulkner prizes, The Hours is a daring and deeply affecting novel inspired by the life and work of Virginia Woolf. A passionate, profound and haunting story of love and inheritance, hope and despair. Exiled in Richmond in the 1920s, taken from her beloved Bloomsbury and lovingly watched over by her husband Leonard, Virginia Woolf struggles to tame her rebellious mind and make a start on her new novel. In the brooding heat of 1940s Los Angeles, a young wife and mother yearns to escape the claustrophobia of suburban domesticity and read her precious copy of Mrs Dalloway. And in New York in the 1990s, Clarissa Vaughan steps out of her smart Greenwich Village apartment and goes shopping for flowers for the party she is giving in honour of her life-long friend Richard, an award-winning poet whose mind and body are being ravaged by AIDS. These are the characters in Michael Cunningham's exquisite and deeply moving novel, which takes Woolf's life and work as inspiration for a meditation on artistic behaviour, failure, love and madness. Moving effortlessy across the decades and between England and America, Cunningham's elegant, haunting prose explores the pain and trauma of creativity and the immutable relationship between writer and reader.
Winner Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 1999
Winner Pen/Faulkner Prize 1999
"This book is inspired by Mrs Dalloway and her complicated creator, Virginia Woolf. Indeed reading the two books simultaneously, comparison can be drawn on a virtually sentence-to-sentence basis. However, The Hours does not rest on the laurels of its inspiration. Set, like Mrs Dalloway, during one summer's day, the book is a penetrating study of humanity, of love, death, madness and sexuality; of our vision of ourselves and of others. Three stories of different periods occupy the day: that of Virginia Woolf herself and her entourage, of Laura Brown in 1940s Los Angeles and of Clarissa Vaughan in 1990s New York. The alternating chapters slide easily in and out of one another, slotting together unexpectedly and wholly naturally in the last chapter. This carefully studied, many-tiered, highly literary book offers an insight into Virginia Woolf and what lay behind her characters and a moving account of the shared experiences of women through the century. "(Kirkus UK)
"Steeped in Virginia Woolf, Cunningham (Flesh and Blood, 1995, etc.) offers up a sequel to the work of the great author, complete with her own pathos and brilliance. Cunningham tells three tales, interweaving them in cunning ways and, after the model of Mrs. Dalloway itself, allowing each only a day in the life of its central character. First comes Woolf herself, in June of 1923 (after a prologue describing her 1941 suicide). In Woolf's day (as in her writings), little "happens," though the profundities are great: Virginia works (on Mrs. Dalloway); her sister Vanessa visits; Virginia holds her madness at bay (just barely); and, over dinner, she convinces husband Leonard to move back to London from suburban Richmond. In the "Mrs. Brown" sections, a young woman named Sally Brown reads the novel Mrs. Dalloway, this in suburban L.A. (in 1949), where Sally has a three-year-old son, is pregnant again, and, preparing her husband's birthday celebration, fights off her own powerful despair. Finally, and at greatest length, is the present-time day in June of "Mrs. Dalloway," this being one Clarissa Vaughan of West 10th Street, NYC, years ago nicknamed Mrs. Dalloway by her then-lover and now-AIDS-victim Richard Brown - who, on this day in June, is to receive a major prize for poetry. Like the original Mrs. Dalloway, this Clarissa is planning a party (for Richard), goes out for flowers, observes the day, sees someone famous, thinks about life, time, the past, and love ("Now she knows: That was the moment, right then. There has been no other"). Much in fact does happen; much is lost, hoped for, feared, sometimes recovered ("It will serve as this afternoon's manifestation of the central mystery itself"), all in gorgeous, Woolfian, shimmering, perfectly observed prose. Hardly a false note in an extraordinary carrying on of a true greatness that doubted itself." (Kirkus Reviews US)
Michael Cunningham was raised in Los Angeles and now lives in New York. His first novel A Home at the End of the World was published in 1990. and his second Flesh and Blood in 1995. His work has been published in the New Yorker and Best American Short Stories 1989.