Mrs. Dalloway Double Feature

With wanting to go back to school this fall, something I decided to do over my two-month leave from my day job for quarantine was to try and read at least a handful of books listed on the English course reading lists I was looking at. With my mother being an English Major, she decided to join in and we read Mrs. Dalloway together with the intention of watching the film The Hours (dir. Stephen Daldry, 2003) when we finished it.

Mrs. Dalloway was a tough read for me. It’s a really dense story that follows several characters over the course of a single day with flashbacks to various points in time throughout. As someone who has never really had to do a close reading before, I found it difficult looking for things that I don’t even think were there to begin with (like a point), and it made for a very long time spent pushing through the dense prose. While Virigina Woolf has some seriously great quotes in the book, and an interesting look at female independence in that time period, I found the number of characters and the muddled paragraphs very difficult to follow. I get that it’s “stream of consciousness” writing, but I found myself re-reading things several times and – at moments – entirely giving up and just continuing on with the book whether or not I understood what I was reading. When I finally finished the book I was more annoyed than anything else because I seriously felt like I missed something.

While waiting for my mom to finish reading, I learned that The Hours film is based on the book of the same name by Michael Cunningham. Having read one of Cunningham’s books in the past and enjoying it, I jumped on trying to read The Hours.

In three days, I finished reading one of the most beautiful books I’ve come across this year. The Hours follows three women over a single day: Virginia Woolf as she plans on writing Mrs. Dalloway, Laura Brown as she fights depression while planning her husband’s birthday, and Clarissa Vaughan as she plans a celebratory party for her friend that has won a significant literary award. The storyline that I loved best was Clarissa’s as the involvement of the AIDs pandemic fallout of the 90s and the harsh reality of the suffering AIDs patients went through… It’s heartbreaking and raw and beautiful. With so many context cues to the source material that is Mrs. Dalloway, adding AIDs on top of the tragedy of the adaptation of Septimus’s life makes so a heartbreaking and layered reason for the horrible end.

I definitely enjoyed The Hours and I feel like I picked up on a lot more nuances having read Mrs. Dalloway first. Of course, the film was a different story (for a different day but… how do you ruin a movie that stars Meryl freaking Streep?!) and I honestly hated it, but I’m so pleased to have picked up Michael Cunningham’s novel. It was an interesting exercise reading both of these books with my mom as well and really reminded me how much I enjoy talking about books with people.

REVIEW: By Nightfall

Michael Cunningham’s By Nightfall is a story of yearning for something more. Beautifully told with the background of the the SoHo neighbourhood in Manhattan, Peter and Rebecca’s lives become a metaphor for what is needed versus what is desired and the importance of knowing the difference of that.

The Story

Peter and Rebecca Harris are an art curator and a magazine editor, respectively. They live the lives of those in New York City that have enough money to not worry about their lives while still being “average” enough that they aren’t entirely obnoxious or elitist. Slightly above average lives for slightly above average people. But then Rebecca’s young brother, an ex-drug addict who has decided he wants to be an artist or an art curator, comes to stay with them and Peter’s life goes off the rails enough to keep things interested. He becomes enamored with Ethan, thinking of him as the beautiful muse his life has been missing. The pretty young thing that will make everything make sense.  However, Ethan is more of a handful than Peter is able to handle…

The Characters

Peter is a typical middle-aged man in crisis about his life. His wife, Rebecca, is in a similar state of mediocrity but is not stressed out about it. Ethan – or Mizzy (short for “The Mistake”) – is a typical 20-something stoner type with too much time on his hands and not enough boundaries. There are several side characters as well ranging from other middle-aged art dealers or pretentious artists to Peter’s daughter who he’s sure doesn’t love him. To be entirely honest, I was bored by most of the characters. Peter’s love affair was so minor and quick it almost went unwarranted and proved him to be a rather unpleasant person. Rebecca had almost no character at all. Ethan was – as I mentioned before – just a typical druggie type that I have personally had the misfortune of dealing with myself.

Conclusion ★★★

In conclusion I honestly only finished this book for two reasons: 1) This was an audiobook and helped pass the time at my day job (which allows me to wear headphones while I work) and 2) Hugh Dancy was the one reading the audiobook.

Were it not for Dancy’s rather soothing voice, I don’t think I would have made it through. The prose is almost hypnotic and created a beautifully vivid depiction of New York, and there are few things I love more than an author who is capable of such powerful descriptions. However, the story was bland and the characters unrelatable. I am still giving this 3 out of 5 stars, however, because I highly enjoyed Hugh Dancy’s performance for the audiobook (he does voices) and as I said, the descriptions of the city and the artwork were stunningly clear.

Not my taste, but I won’t tell people not to read it.

PS. – Yes there is a male/male “romance” involved in the story, but I would personally not count it as LBGT+ representation.


Published: September 28, 2010

Summary: Peter and Rebecca Harris: mid-forties denizens of Manhattan’s SoHo, nearing the apogee of committed careers in the arts—he a dealer, she an editor. With a spacious loft, a college-age daughter in Boston, and lively friends, they are admirable, enviable contemporary urbanites with every reason, it seems, to be happy. Then Rebecca’s much younger look-alike brother, Ethan (known in thefamily as Mizzy, “the mistake”), shows up for a visit. A beautiful, beguiling twenty-three-year-old with a history of drug problems, Mizzy is wayward, at loose ends, looking for direction. And in his presence, Peter finds himself questioning his artists, their work, his career—the entire world he has so carefully constructed.