I read this book as a follow-up to Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. I'm glad I read that book before reading Michael Cunningham's The Hours since it helped me understand many of the references.
The book is a tour de force when it comes to strong, female literary characters. It follows three women who live at different times in the 20th Century. Virginia Woolf is one of the characters; we read about her near the end of her life. In fact the book opens with her suicide. Mrs. Brown is a frustrated housewife leading the expected life of a woman in the 1950s. And Clarissa, (whose friend dying from AIDS nicknames Mrs. Dalloway) lives in New York at the end of the 20th Century and his planning a partying for her sick friend.
Cunningham is really good at writing believable female characters, particularly since most of these women are not simply accessories to male characters. Most male authors struggle to write convincing women unless they are set against a strong man. But these women jump off the pages with engaging, heart-pounding emotion.
Cunningham's references to Mrs. Dalloway are ingenious, delivering a book that seems wholly original yet fused with with the ideas and events of Woolf's novel.
Here's where my rating system may be problematic. I liked this book better that Mrs. Dalloway, to which I gave three Jeffies. Maybe that's because contemporary language seems so sensible to my contemporary ear. But I'm not sure this book warrants four Jeffies. I could sure use a half Jeffy right about now. I'm still committed to not cutting my face, or my opinions in half. I'll give The Hours the benefit of the doubt. Four Jeffies it is.