Interweaving three tales in the same manner as Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, Michael Cunningham's The Hours tells the day-to-day happenings of an older Virginia Woolf, a 1950s housewife reading Woolf's book, and the present-day "Mrs. Dalloway."
The Hours was Woolf's original title for Mrs. Dalloway, and Cunningham's use of it causes the reader to wonder if he is going to achieve his effects merely by mimicking Woolf's voice, plot and point of view. But Cunningham...deftly created something original, a trio of richly interwoven tales that alternate with one another chapter by chapter, each of them entering the thoughts of a character as she moves through the small details of a day ... Though Cunningham enters his characters' minds and reconstitutes their days impressively, The Hours is not without problems ...few throwaway scenes...some unrealized and stereotypical characters...some awkward and unnecessary shifts in point of view ... Cunningham's emulation of such a revered writer as Woolf is courageous, and this is his most mature and masterful work.
Michael Cunningham's new novel, The Hours, is neither an homage nor a sequel to Mrs. Dalloway. It is, rather, an attempt at osmosis with the spirit of Virginia Woolf ...a feat of literary acrobatics, yet in the end does not affect us as profoundly as Mrs. Dalloway. The Hours is a variation on a theme, and it's the original melody rather than the contemporary arrangement that's most memorable ...consists of three distinct narratives that overlap one another ... Cunningham's writing has a luminous quality ... He reinterprets characters, gives them his own spin ... Pulling off this clever literary accomplishment shows us that the talented Michael Cunningham isn't at all afraid of Virginia Woolf.
In the prologue of The Hours we are asked to imagine, as if from her point of view, the day of Virginia Woolf's suicide. But this is not a fictionalisation of her life and death; it is an imitation – a reworking – of her novel, Mrs Dalloway ... Cunningham gives you every chance to hear his echoes of Woolf's style: the whimsical similes, the rueful parentheses, the luminous circumstantial detail. And the narrative method is a homage to Woolf's novel ... Though each section of Cunningham's novel concentrates on one of its three leading characters, the narrative can always shift between different consciousnesses ... If you have read Mrs Dalloway, you will guess how Richard's story might end. Yet plot is incidental.