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Someone has to die that the rest of us should value life more. Thus ends the book “The Hours” by Michael Cunningham. The book is an intelligent and thoughtful attempt at treading the ever-so-confusing topic of existentialism. The novel happens to be a dedication by the writer to the life of Virginia Woolf. She was someone who examined the concept of existentialism and a lot of other beliefs to the minutest of details. It is only a very dramatic yet excruciating account of Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.

The entire story takes place on a single day in three different years in the lives of three different women – Virginia Woolf, Clarissa Vaughan and Laura Brown. The book starts with Woolf trying to commit suicide by drowning herself in a river. She is clearly bogged down with the despondency life has to offer and sees no light at the end of the tunnel. As a classic case of chronic and acute depression, Woolf speaks more through her staring-into-nothingness eyes than through dialogues. She is constantly under the fear of committing suicide, even as she is working on her novel – Mrs. Dalloway. Her husband and house-helps provide continual vigilance to ensure she doesn’t end up doing anything silly. A couple of scenes portray her latent homosexual feelings. Through the movie, she convinces her husband that she has the right to live wherever she wants and that happens to be London, not the village where they currently put up. Overpowered by his love and care for her, the husband has no other choice but to acquiesce.

Enter Clarissa Vaughan. She is the embodiment of all that is Mrs. Dalloway. She is old, lives with her female partner, has a daughter and dotes over her once-upon-a-time lover Richard. She is preparing to throw a party to celebrate Richard winning a literary award. Yes, Richard is a writer and like most other classics from the Queen’s land, there is a writer doomed to destruction in the plot. Richard also happens to be in the last stages of AIDS with his partner having left him at Clarissa’s beckoning. The same evening, paranoid Richard commits suicide in front of her eyes leaving her to more and more miseries.

Enter Laura Brown. She introduces herself to Clarissa as Richard’s mother. In her younger days, when she was pregnant with her second child, Laura had led a deeply unsatisfied life. Everything around her seemed to throw her off. Richard, her son was very attached to her. On one occasion, she left Richard at a day-care and checked into a hotel, with the grand notion of committing suicide. But she fails. She starts reading Mrs. Dalloway and then gets back to her family, but not for long. After the birth of her daughter, she leaves her family and the-very-attached-to-her son to lead a more independent life in Canada. She makes no qualms about having taken the decision of leaving her family. In her own words, she had chosen life over death and it was as simple as that.

The book is a true classic of self-destruction, the tabooed desire of homosexuality and existentialism. It starts and ends with Woolf’s suicide. The very concept of life having to end for it to start again is highlighted beautifully as the theme of the novel. Much said, the novel is sheer genius when it comes to literature. What makes it this engaging and heart-warming is not the characters but the manner in which their lives have been threaded together. The narrative style is again something that is worth mentioning. And I am sure, like me, many others would have been pushed to read Mrs. Dalloway after reading this (in case they haven’t already)!

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