Critical Overview

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The Hours has received overwhelmingly enthusiastic praise from readers and scholars alike. Many reviewers, such as Darlene E. Erickson in her essay on the novel for Christianity and Literature, applaud the novel's style. She comments that the "text is … rich and intricate" and that it is "refreshing" to discover a work "that is both beautiful and evocative—and a writer who takes the time to get it right, to say what he means with both clarity and originality."

Trudy Bush, in her review of the novel for Christian Century, claims that the novel is "[b]eautifully written." In her review of the book for Lambda Book Report, Sarah Van Arsdale concludes that The Hours is "engaging" and contains "gorgeous prose," which makes it "a fine example of how it's ultimately the writing, the crafting of prose, that makes or breaks a book. Here, the writing itself propels the three plots forward, bringing the reader along effortlessly."

Critics also admire Cunningham's reworking of the themes of Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. Erickson writes, "One reads [The Hours] with growing awe at a mind that comprehends what T. S. Eliot called 'Tradition and the Individual Talent,'" concluding, "With his gracious homage to Woolf, Cunningham has reaffirmed what Eliot recognized long ago—namely, that all great texts build on those written before them." Bush claims, "The book performs the difficult feat of both lyrically echoing Woolf and being original" and admits that she was "struck by its connection to Woolf's novel and by the way writers are inspired by, react to and move beyond each other's work."

Michael Coffey in his article for Publishers Weekly concludes that Cunningham "skillfully interweaves three novellas" in his text. He adds, "The subtle interactions of these narratives, and each one's mirroring of scenes right out of Mrs. Dalloway, adds a dimensionality to The Hours that makes it much more than the sum of its parts." He claims that readers will be "mesmerized by Cunningham's attention to quotidian detail" and notes that he "deftly brings [the characters] all together."

Van Arsdale continues the praise for Cunningham's revisioning of Woolf's novel insisting that he breathes "new life into characters and a story created some 70 years ago." While Van Arsdale argues that "occasionally the set up … becomes too apparent, grabbing the attention from the writing," this fault, she claims is "offset by the brutal honesty here." She insists that the "emotional accuracy is so dead-on" and lauds "Cunningham's love and respect, not only for Woolf … but also for writing, for language, and for the daily, dogged work of honoring one's creative process."

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