I received this book for free from Edelweis+, Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Invisible Hour by Alice Hoffman
Published by Simon and Schuster on August 15, 2023
Genres: Fiction / Historical / General, Fiction / Literary, Fiction / Occult & Supernatural
Source: Edelweis+, Simon & Schuster
From the beloved New York Times bestselling author of The Marriage of Opposites and the Practical Magic series comes an enchanting novel about love, heartbreak, self-discovery, and the enduring magic of books.
One brilliant June day when Mia Jacob can no longer see a way to survive, the power of words saves her. The Scarlet Letter was written almost two hundred years earlier, but it seems to tell the story of Mia’s mother, Ivy, and their life inside the Community—an oppressive cult in western Massachusetts where contact with the outside world is forbidden, and books are considered evil. But how could this be? How could Nathaniel Hawthorne have so perfectly captured the pain and loss that Mia carries inside her?
Through a journey of heartbreak, love, and time, Mia must abandon the rules she was raised with at the Community. As she does, she realizes that reading can transport you to other worlds or bring them to you, and that readers and writers affect one another in mysterious ways. She learns that time is more fluid than she can imagine, and that love is stronger than any chains that bind you.
As a girl Mia fell in love with a book. Now as a young woman she falls in love with a brilliant writer as she makes her way back in time. But what if Nathaniel Hawthorne never wrote The Scarlet Letter? And what if Mia Jacob never found it on the day she planned to die?
Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote: “A single dream is more powerful than a thousand realities.”
This is the story of one woman’s dream. For a little while it came true.
The best thing about this book is that I want to give Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter another chance. This is quite surprising because my dislike of The Scarlet Letter is quite known among my friends. It did take a bit to get into the story, but I understand why the author wrote it the way she did, and readers do need that background to understand the characters and their motivations. We need to know where Mia’s mother grew up and how she came to the Community, along with how Joel Davis runs the Community. How Hoffman wrote the cult and its operations, felt so authentic that I was filled with dread and apprehension as I read it. I would love to know if there was any inspiration for this cult in the book.
The characters felt so compelling and heartbreaking. We have Ivy, Mia’s mother, who knows as soon as she arrives at the Community that this isn’t the paradise it acts like, but where else can she go? The punishment for pregnancy and motherhood that, for the most part, falls on women is shown so well in this book. Ivy has no options except where she found herself and stays out of fear for what would happen to her daughter. Mia is a riveting character. Most of what happens in the novel is from Mia’s perspective. The most crucial lesson Mia learns is something that everyone should know, which is that there are hundreds of worlds to explore through books and the importance of the library to find those books. Despite Mia’s lot in life, she chooses her path by leaving the Community, digging deep to find the strength and courage to move on.
The theme of women’s rights and how women should make their own decisions is deeply present throughout the novel. As stated above, the fact that Ivy didn’t have many options available landed her in this horrible position in a cult. With Mia, as she learns to read, she finds empowerment through knowledge and the fact that women need to make their own choices. This theme of women’s empowerment is experienced both in the present and when Mia time travels to the past. When Mia travels back to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s time, she meets Elizabeth, Nathaniel’s sister. Elizabeth longs for knowledge and learning and the opportunity to choose what she wants to do but is denied every step of the way because she is a woman. It wears on her how willing Mia initially seems to stay in the past and give up all that she can do in the future. This exchange between Mia and Elizabeth is so telling for the women’s empowerment movement: “‘Tell me women get to make their own choices someday. Tell me there’s a time when we can choose our own fate.’ Mia thought of how much courage it took to go against the rules. She could not say it would always be different in her own time. ‘I can tell you that we try.'”
There are a few minor things that I did dislike in the book. I wasn’t that interested when we were at Nathaniel Hawthorne’s perspective, not only due to my dislike of him but because I was enjoying seeing everything through Mia’s eyes that I missed her. The other part I was miffed by was the ending. I’m okay with ambiguous, unsure endings. But this one felt too confusing and weird to the point that I wasn’t even sure what was going on. Did Mia have the baby? Did she drown herself in the lake once back in the present? Did she ever come across The Scarlet Letter or drown herself before this happened? There were too many options and no clues as to what really happened. I still highly recommend this, as it’s such a wonderful love letter to readers, writers, libraries, and women.