Full disclosure: I picked up The Hours simply because of the prose. While I had read about Virginia Woolfe’s tragic life, I had never read any of her work, nor had I any intent to read The Hours, even though it had won a Pulitzer Prize.
What actually inspired me to read it was the film Liberal Arts. The character in the movie is constantly going into bookshops to read the last three pages of this book (even though it isn’t stated what book it is) and the director/actor of the movie, Josh Radnor, had stated in interviews how devastating the last three pages of this book were. I was intrigued.
The novel is about three different women in different time periods (including Virginia Woolfe) all suffering with the quiet desperation of life and the struggle to find a purpose. Their hopes, dreams, insecurities and the incessant take over of everyday life are all explored in beautifully quiet and at times haunting way.
As I said previously, the reason I picked up this novel was the prose and it did not disappoint. The way Michael Cunningham crafts his story is devastatingly beautiful. As I read in a review online, sometimes it’s so beautiful, that you have to stop and take a moment to digest the words and ponder the way it was strung together. I discovered that Josh Radnor was correct; the last three pages are stunning and beautiful. The paragraph below is my favorite piece from the entire book.
However, my disappointment in The Hours are the actual characters. The story itself is quite relatable at the bare-level – women who are unhappy with their lives, something almost everyone can relate to. Yet, I felt little sympathy for these women (Clarissa at most and Laura least). I could not connect with them on a personal level enough to feel an empathy for them. For this reason, they came across as petty. While Cunningham’s prose is beautiful, his characters just didn’t feel genuine enough for me to really, truly enjoy the novel. So while it is enjoyable simply for the writing, if you are in it for an entertaining read, this might not be the best novel to consume.