July 24th, 2004

Total Mule

I hate being drunk. I hate the fakiness of it; the feeling of being brilliant when you know- with that maidenly part of the mind that has stood apart- that you're actually having difficulty putting one foot in front of the other. And then, of course, I hate the comedown. No brief moment of blokey exaltation is worth that long night of having to hold onto the bed in case its pitching and rolling throws you off.

Yesterday was a very quiet day. I finished Mrs Dalloway. And I'm going to follow it up now with Michael Cunningham's The Hours (which Amazon's courier delivered to the door this morning.) Judy advised me I should do this, and I must respect her judgement very much because I'm a total mule and reject most such suggestions out of hand. Sadly she won't read this little tribute. I keep trying to get her to invest in a LJ, but she remains stubbornly faithful to her first on-line love, the political chat-rooms.

The Hours

Well, I polished off the Hours in the course of an afternoon. When was the last time I did that I wonder?

So, it must have been good? Yes, indeed. And part of the charm is that it's a literary parlour game and you're continually patting yourself on the back for recognizing a quotation, an allusion or a subtle variation. Whee, aren't I clever.

But even without that it would be a pretty good novel. It's moving, perceptive, clever.

Tricky too; tricky in the way a detective story is tricky, springing surprises by misdirection and sleight of hand (which is something Woolf doesn't even try to do.) As a piece of novelistic craft it's up their with the best.

So it's a marvellous book, but it's not a work of genius and Mrs Dalloway is. Mrs Dalloway resists Cunningham's act of homage. He critiques, he imitates, he celebrates but he hasn't taken the town. It's still there, still flying its own flag. By his assault he proves it to be a work, like Hamlet, that can survive its interpreters.

In ever respect, good as it is, the Hours is the lesser book; more explicit in its morality, more conventional in its psychology, altogether less weird and mysterious. And the writing, though beautiful, isn't as incandescently beautiful as Woolf's. Clarissa Vaughan's morning in New York chimes with Clarissa Dalloway's morning in London step by step, but the one is a brilliantly willed tour de force and the other is the greatest and most sustained stretch of ecstatic prose in the English language.