This novel is far superior to the film it inspired. Michael Cunningham interweaves the stories of three women: Virginia Woolf’s initial attempts to write ‘Mrs Dalloway’, Clarissa (‘Dalloway’) Vaughan as she prepares for a party to celebrate a literary prize awarded to a former lover, and Laura Brown, who is trying to arrange a birthday party for her husband, but who is finding difficulty concentrating on the baking and cooking as she is absorbed in reading ‘Mrs Dalloway’.
Cunningham’s novel is a kind of homage to Woolf’s novel. He develops and embroiders her plot and ideas, but the reader (if he/she has read Woolf’s original) cannot fail to recognise the echoes and the parallels. The time scale, the parties being organised, similarities in the plots, in the names of some of the characters and in some of the themes. He inhabits the psychology of the three women, just as Woolf does with Clarissa Dalloway, and writes in a similar style, including the use of parenthetical brackets. Above all, the three protagonists are examined over the course of one day with ample descriptions of cityscapes as they walk the streets of New York and Richmond, just as Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway walks through London.
The three tales interconnect and weave seamlessly and leave the reader with a strong feeling of satisfied enjoyment. I’m tempted to return to Woolf’s original tale to remind myself of Cunningham’s literary skill.