Just when I thought a book would never come along to topple Mrs Dalloway off it's perch for me I find The Hours. I know it is probably sacrilegious to list an emulation of a Woolf classic as higher than the classic itself - but I did fall completely in love with Cunningham's writing, his version of the story and his amazing creative talent in bringing the stories and character's together.
Cunningham takes Woolf's Mrs Dalloway and creates a modern interpretation of the novel by telling the stories of three female characters; Clarissa who lives in 1990's New York is in the midst of planning for a party to take place at her apartment that night, Laura Brown a young housewife and mother suffocating in the existence of 1940's suburban Los Angeles and Virginia Woolf herself, also living in the suburbs ,as a tonic for her health, and who is in the process of writing Mrs Dalloway.
Each chapter of the book is told from the perspective of each character in her own voice - and the voices are clear and distinct and yet in many ways containing a similar essence. The women are separated by time and place and yet they share common dreams and pains - the desire to be free, to be loved for who they are and to make their own choices. Cunningham uses simple, every day tasks and events to illustrate the inner worlds of the characters. I thought some of the most effective and painful parts of the narrative were the scenes where Laura is going through the process of making a cake for her husband's Birthday party;
Still she had hoped to create something finer, something more significant, than what she's produced, even with its smooth surface and its centered message. She wants (she admits to herself) a dream of a cake manifested as an actual cake; a cake invested with an undeniable and profound sense of comfort, of bounty. She wants to have baked a cake that banishes sorrow, even if only for a little while. She wants to have produced something marvelous; something that would be marvelous even to those who do not love her.
She has failed. She wishes she didn't mind. Something, she thinks, is wrong with her.
I felt such connection with these characters, Laura in particular even though she is probably the one I have the least in common with in life (apart from her desire to just escape her life for a while and read her beloved book in bed!).
I was so sad when this book ended - partly because of the pain it had touched on in each of the characters but mostly because I just wanted to keep reading more about them. I am definitely glad that I waited to read The Hours until after I had read Mrs Dalloway - the book would stand alone perfectly but it has so much more meaning for being able to connect it to Woolf's writing. I will be reading this one again, and again and possibly even again.