Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Hours & Pink Grapefruit with Pink Peony Petals

"Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself"
- Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

(a bouquet of Pink Peonies wouldn't hurt, either)

I saw the film The Hours a few years ago. I will go ahead and bravely say that it went right over my head (imagine my hand sweeping over the top of my head right now, because that's what I'm doing and that's what the movie did to me). I knew nothing about Virginia Woolf, nothing about Mrs. Dalloway, and frankly only watched it because Nicole Kidman was awarded an Oscar for it. 

So, after reading Mrs. Dalloway, after growing into Virginia Woolf, hearing her calling me from the bookshelf and then from the pages of Orlando and now from trees and flowers, it was still with a little trepidation that I picked up The Hours at the local library. Was it going to be better than the movie? Was it going to injure my newfound love for Virginia? Instead of hearing Virginia speak to me, would I be picturing Nicole Kidman's prosthetic nose in my mind?

What joy, what bliss, then, to discover the beauty of Michael Cunningham's The Hours. I admit, I couldn't shake the images of Meryl Streep (even though the actual Meryl Streep appears in the book - surprise!) and Julianne Moore. But, I am happy to say, Nicole Kidman's nose took a back seat and I saw Virginia (and her own lovely nose), heard her voice, could even see through her eyes as she looked up through the beautiful and terrifying water. 

For me, the beauty of this book lies in its truth. It explains so vividly what is so terrifying and similarly what is so wonderful about being a living, breathing human being. There is the beauty of the world, ecstatic errands, flowers, making cakes, throwing parties, stolen kisses. Similarly, these things can each hold their own terror. There are also the hours - all of those terrifying hours that stretch out ahead of you for who knows how long. On some days, those hours disappear into the horizon, making it almost impossible to get out of bed. On some days, that horizon seems all too close, uncomfortably close, and the terror comes from the realization that it's closer than you once dreamed. 

But, that is the MOST beautiful thing about the human condition - we all experience that terror and that comfort together. We all both fear and respect death. We can all appreciate the beauty of the sunshine and the fear of the day when we will see it for the last time. 

Michael Cunningham says it best himself:

There is just this for consolation: an hour here or there, when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we've ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) knows these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning, we hope, more than anything, for more. Heaven only knows why we love it so.

I also find it worth noting that everything that I have just said, explaining why I loved this book, explains why I loved Mrs. Dalloway. That feeling of interconnectedness is so well presented in both, which is why I think it is so important to see The Hours as a companion for Mrs. Dalloway. They are like cheese and wine or oreos and milk - they bring out the best in each other. Michael Cunningham obviously has a great love for Virginia Woolf and her work, and this is a love letter to her and to the modern readers who love her but wish that they could see her take on the world as it is now. 

So, I would suggest going to your local (independent!) bookstore today, picking up a copy of Mrs. Dalloway, and keeping enough money in your wallet to buy The Hours next week.
But above all else, avoid Nicole Kidman's prosthetic nose.

Also, hear Woolf's actual voice below.

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