Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Recently put down The Hours by Michael Cunningham, and found it rich and entrancing. The particular Woolfe-like riffs he does with his language is lovely, and under perfect control, and it is a suitable way to link the lives of the three women, whose psychic lives of acceptance and denial illustrate a scatter of concentration, a loss of the self when all other memory, personal history leads one only to the exact moment one is in, a cell of complacency, a dead end. The intertwined narratives, connected through time and each related in some marginal way with the issue of Virginia Woolfe and her novel Mrs. Dollaway, is lovely, being about lose, desire, the great inability to frame an ideal and then live in it in a universe that is busy, intrusive, insensitive to inner life. Cunningham commands the Woolfe style : the stream of conscious that is amid thought in the ebb and flow of existence: we have , again and again, real images, concrete in detail and form, become, through character musing and more musing, become abstract, fluid, merged with the fleeting psychology of each passing.Cunningham is quite good at describing a sadness that cannot be named, a spreading melancholy that invades and over takes both dreams and waking lives, and he demonstrates the act of creation as being in some way some way to seek a cure for the souls' illness--at one point or another, the women, compare themselves to the facts of the Mrs. Dollaway story, that it, somehow , is a narrative frame work through which a story, with a perfected technique in rendering its poetic effects, is taken for an achievable ideal , a diorama that instructs the reader how to respond to others, to the world.
Even the character of Woolfe, the author of the story that links the women through the novel, struggles with her unhappiness, and seems, desperately, to try and order her work habits to bring the work some illuminating , enlarging quality that will demonstrate consciousness at ease in its world, fatalistic in to a fatal degree. Cunningham understands the lack, and deals with the sense that things are lost, people die, memories live as long as there are people there to have them, unless one is fortunate enough to have been a novelist, or a poet who, through some publishing fluke, produces works that survives one whose contents, language, style colors the personality of another decades off.
Even so, Cunningham suggests that literature's' promise is not to bring happiness or resolution, but only reminders that the flesh grows old, the mind faint, and regret is a luxury in which no one should invest. The Hours works because author Cunningham doesn't try in any obvious way to assert a connection between the women, other than a tenuous connection with Woolfe and her novel, Mrs. Dollaway.
It's the skillful use of the stream-of-conscious the connects the stories, really, the women and their time periods, the way in which the on set of depression and slowly inhibiting despair is explored in the ways that these women think about the world they live in.
Family, duty, loyalty to others, all the things that the characters have to be loyal to and whose cause the central figures argue for, are seen to come into a continuing conflict with personalities whose centers are eroding, slipping into darkness. Like Woolfe, Cunningham continually deploys the facts and the images of the external world, a sign that the conscious mind is struggling to stay engaged with the world, but we see these images become abstractions, mere definitions, blurry and meaningless as the corridors get darker, colder. Applying this to Woolfe herself, as a character, was a smart and unexpected touch, perhaps critiquing the notion, the myth that one may write their way out of a chronically dour state. In any case, this trio of tales is delicately rendered, and the author's touch here is sure, if not invisible.