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Book Recommendation

Spotlight on: The Hours by Michael Cunningham
Alternate: No Comebacks by Frederick Forsyth

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The Hours by Michael Cunningham Michael Cunningham, The Hours

Michael Cunningham has done an ambitious thing with his novel, The Hours. He has taken Virginia Woolf's classic novel, Mrs. Dalloway, sliced it into thirds, painted each third a different color, and reassembled them, presenting them on a tray for our literary pleasure. That's not to say that it's a bad book, in fact the opposite. It is one of the best I've read recently, and certainly one of the most ambitious. (The Pulitzer Prize committee certainly thought enough of it to award it their prize for fiction published in 1998.)

Cunningham's prose is the star here, as this narrative is composed almost entirely of inner thoughts. The three main characters--author Virginia Woolf, housewife Laura Brown, and modern "Mrs. Dalloway" Clarissa Vaughan--are somewhat similar in make-up, but that is part of the point.

Cunningham has taken Mrs. Dalloway and extrapolated it to different women in different time periods. The two "fictional" women (not counting the fictionally-presented Ms. Woolf) are bound together by the fact that both are preparing a party for a loved one. That these women are connected in yet another way is stunningly disclosed very near the end.

I really enjoyed The Hours. It is one of the few "literary" fictions that I found to be a real page-turner, and I finished it in a day and a half. That certainly speaks for its mass appeal, and I hope that others--particularly other men, as its main readership appears to be women of the Oprah crowd--will seek it out and perhaps even use it as a doorway to read Mrs. Dalloway.

One thing, however, as the book is mostly composed of inner thoughts, I'm with the author in wondering how they're going to make a movie based on it. I haven't seen the film yet, but there is all sorts of Oscar buzz surrounding director Stephen Daldry and stars Nicole Kidman (Virginia Woolf), Meryl Streep (Clarissa Vaughan), and Julianne Moore (Laura Brown).

But, even so, I think any film adaptation could only pale in comparison to the original source material. After all, we all know that the book is always better than the movie, don't we?

No Comebacks by Frederick Forsyth The Veteran by Frederick Forsyth Alternate Recommendations:
Frederick Forsyth, No Comebacks
Frederick Forsyth, The Veteran

No Comebacks was the first short story collection that introduced me to the dark side of society in a way that felt incredibly real. I was a teenager when I came across an audiobook (read by Frank Muller) from Recorded Books.

I was riveted to these stories of people who--more often than not--get themselves into strange predicaments and have to resort to violence or the like to get out. Often the stories end with a twist on the level of O. Henry (except more dire, of course) where we learn something new about the character(s) that Forsyth had previously held back from us.

I have yet to read any of Forsyth's novels but I keep going back to this collection time and time again, enjoying them as much as the first time (perhaps more now that I am older and can identify with them more).

The Veteran is just as fine, and in many ways better, even though I know that it can never equal the original feeling I had when I first discovered No Comebacks. The title story concerns the investigation of a mugging. We are introduced to police constables, lawyers, and the whole judicial process unfolds before our eyes as we witness the necessary evils that are used in bringing someone to justice. Forsyth pulls a twist on us, as usual, and though it's not as effective as some of his other work, it's still quite worth the ride.

Also in this collection is "The Miracle," a shorter twisting tale of a couple who are stopped on their way by a man with some very interesting information. Both of these stories alone were worth the relatively minimal price of the book, given that I will no doubt be rereading The Veteran many times to come.

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