I'm not sure it's ever smart to do much more than suggest allusions to Virginia Woolf and her dazzling Dalloway. Push the echoes too forcefully and you'll end up seeming like nothing but a karaoke singer. (If I want to be the lead singer, endlessly reminding the audience that I idolize Aretha Franklin will do me no service as I wail.*) Hynes' book opens with an epigraph from Mrs. D, and the book echoes that classic's focus: a single day's walk around a dense social landscape, the threat of distant wars and violence coming home, a constant musing stream where consciousness links past and present, the limited perspective of an individual both celebrated and ironized.
At its best, Hynes' novel is chockablock full of funny sharp observations, and it has a generous sense that even the most narcissistic impulses of its protagonist are merely venial sins, and does not condemn him.
But our focus is so intently on Kevin that the novel can feel a lot more claustrophobic than Dalloway. All he ever seems to think about is fear and fornication. These are certainly meaningful elements of human experience, but ... sheesh. I loved how Kevin would occasionally be jarred out of himself, and in a flash recognize others. The novel soars when these moments occur. But the long investigations of his regrets and desires... I just got a bit worn down.
Still, it's a compelling and engaging read.
*Michael Cunningham may be a decent karaoke singer, but he is still a karaoke singer.