THE HOURS follows one day in the life of three women: Clarissa Vaughn, a modern day writer planning a party for a renowned but terminally ill friend; Laura Brown, a housewife in the 1950s, who reads Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway in between planning her husband's birthday dinner and taking care of her 3-year-old son; and Virgina Woolf, as she writes Mrs. Dalloway.
I was partial to Laura--the day that Cunningham describes shows a shift in her personality, a subtle shift that makes way for the more dramatic days to follow. The character developement is subdued, but very powerful, and is paralleled by Virginia Woolf's writing of Mrs. Dalloway--as Woolf assigns a particular trait or circumstance to her character, Clarissa Dalloway, that trait begins to emerge in Cunningham's characters, almost as if Woolf is shaping their lives herself (which, indirectly, she does).
The perspective changes from one woman to the next with each chapter, and Cunningham binds the scenes with repeated images--yellow roses, the act of buying flowers, the planning of parties--though each image shows up in markedly different circumstances. The whole book is very lovely, I think, and the continued references to Mrs. Dalloway add an interesting echo to the braided plotlines. However, I haven't read Mrs. Dalloway. I suppose I'll have to, now.