Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

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.
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