A bunch of gay people in Greenwich Village unconsciously re-enacting Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway? It sounded like one of the worst ideas of all time. Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, though, proves once again that when a novelist has the right stuff, he can endow literally any subject with truth, poetry, and intelligence. The Pulitzer Committee, for once, made no mistake when it decided to award its 1999 prize for fiction to this relatively unknown author.

Cunningham has clearly steeped himself in Woolf’s work and style without, thank God, letting the novel become in any way an imitation of her; it is more an echo or a parallel of Mrs Dalloway, or a dialogue with it, than an homage (to use a horrible word). Cunningham has a perfectly good voice of his own and a style blessedly innocent of the preciosity that was Woolf’s principal artistic fault. He attacks the questions raised in Mrs...


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