I've never read Mrs Dalloway, my only encounter with Virginia Woolf university (or was it high school?) texts - To The Lighthouse, A Room of One's Own, both long-forgotten, then a half-hearted attempt to read Orlando some years later. But I adored the film of The Hours, Stephen Daldry and David Hare's adaptation of Michael Cunningham's rhapsody on Woolf, her creation and her readers, from its opening scenes - the whirligig, elegant intercutting between 1920s England, 1950s (40s in the novel) Los Angeles and New York at the turn of the millennium (just before in the book, just after in the film).
So I was eager to try Cunningham's book, though I don't read "literary fiction" very often. Hey, I read comics and write Star Trek fan fic - what do you expect?
I'm intensely jealous. Cunningham writes like I think I could ... if I was infinitely more talented. As someone prone to sub-clauses, I loved the vast elliptical prose, with asides that veer from, then threaten to take over, the sentences from which they sprung. It's an extravagant style that could easily cross over into self-indulgence, but never, entirely, turns florid because the craftsmanship is so confident, the turns of phrase original and insightful, and most every sentence charged with observation.
Cunningham's elegant, circuitous sentences place you simultaneously deep within the subjective life of the characters (and not just because of the present tense ... a form that can be often prove distancing in any case) and also objectively outside them - perhaps because of the perspicacity of his descriptions Nobody really is so acutely observational in real life, right? Unless someone is as skilled a writer as Cunningham perhaps. Bastard.
I see he's written another triptych novel, part of which is a science fiction story. It'll be interesting to see how well that story works as SF instead of just fiction. Few mainstream authors make the genre leap successfully, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale perhaps being the best, best known, example.
It's fascinating comparing David Hare's screenplay with the book. It's remarkably faithful in every aspect, perhaps the truest book-to-movie adaptation since Marcel Pagnol's The Water of the Hills. The tone isn't quite as lilting as the book, some revelations are moved around, but the emotion is actually heightened. Hare makes lines more overt, dramatises, theatricalises, giving for instance Virginia Woolf a soaring aria which won Nicole Kidman an Oscar but that almost certainly wouldn't have worked as novel dialogue. One of the interesting consequences of the coda in the screenplay (which nicely bookends the opening of both the book and the movie) is that Woolf becomes the most important of the three women, whereas in the book it's Clarissa who dominates.