The Hours

My capsule review of The Hours (movie): Felt like hours. Buy the book instead.

And now the long rambling one: I have a long-standing habit of marking passages I particularly like in books, and typing them into my computer as part of a compilation I keep of such passages. Soon after starting the book, I abandoned the exercise, because I realized it would involve typing in almost the whole book. Every time I grope around for a word to describe the quality of Michael Cunningham’s prose, I always end up with luminous, but don’t like using it because it sounds so pretentious (“Luminous, darling, an absolute triumph!”). He combines lyricism and economy of language with such success that every sentence, every page seems to take on a disproportionate amount of beauty and insight relative to the slimness of the containing volume. When I finished the book I was disappointed it had ended so soon, and seriously considered reading it again.

In contrast, at certain points during the movie I was convinced Virginia Woolf’s longing for death couldn’t possibly exceed my own. I was annoyed by its lack of subtlety, bemused at the poor quality of acting, and generally b-o-r-e-d. Julianne Moore was flaccid and one-dimensional and Meryl Streep was slightly better but laid on everything way too thick. Strangely though, I thought Nicole Kidman looked more attractive in prosthetic nose and frumpy dresses than I’d ever seen her before, and Claire Danes was so gorgeous I momentarily questioned my sexual orientation. Alison Janney was fine but shouldn’t even have bothered getting out of bed for a movie role that so grossly underused her considerable talent.

Fun moment: when Leonard finds Virginia at the train station and she pleads with him to move back to London. They’ve been staying in Richmond, a peaceful suburb, since they’ve been advised that London destabilises her and was apparently behind her previous suicide attempts. The problem is that she loves London and is bored out of her skull in Richmond. She says something to the effect of “If Richmond is life, and London is death, then I choose death. Between Richmond and death, I choose death.” Everyone in the Odeon Covent Garden cinema chuckles smugly.

Later, we walk home along the same streets of Bloomsbury where Virginia Woolf lived and loved and went slowly mad all those years ago. Hopefully I will leave these years in London having done only the first two.