Alice Hoffman’s newest book, The Invisible Hour, tells the riveting story of Mia Jacobs, a young woman who has grown up in an isolated farming community in the Berkshires. Run by a domineering man named Joel Davis, the community limits members’ interactions with the outside world and censors reading material. Although Mia and her mother’s experience takes place in the 21st century, it is an echo of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, a book that saves Mia’s life when she decides to escape.
Mia’s mother Ivy is married to Joel, but she never fully renounces the stories and fairy tales that helped her to navigate her own turbulent adolescence. Stories become the bond that helps the women “walk invisible”, and books become a way for Mia to understand the world and her place within it. Mia builds her adult life around the beauty of libraries, and she forges a romantic relationship with an author from the past to help her process the opportunities and limitations of contemporary women’s lives.
Alice Hoffman is at her best when exploring magic, and The Invisible Hour oozes with it. Hoffman returns readers to the enchanted apple orchards and gardens of Blackwell, Massachusetts, a town made famous by the stories in her book The Red Garden, and transports readers to a fairy tale past. She lovingly presents complex relationships between generations of women and shows how even the simplest stories can change someone’s life. Her prose casts a magic spell over her readers, leading them to a deeper understanding of the power of stories and a recognition of the sacred bond between readers and writers.
I loved every word of The Invisible Hour. Fans of Hoffman will find delight in her lush description and perfect pacing, and new readers will be spellbound by Hoffman’s storytelling prowess. Like The Scarlet Letter, a novel that reaches back to a Puritan past to comment on 19th century life, The Invisible Hour reaches back to the 19th century to comment on the 21st. Hoffman’s writing offers her readers both a romantic escape and a social exploration. The Invisible Hour celebrates the joy and potential of storytelling and will be remembered as an Alice Hoffman classic.
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Thank you for an ARC of the book in exchange for a fair review.
Kelly Jarvis teaches classes in literature, writing, and fairy tale at Central Connecticut State University, The University of Connecticut, and Tunxis Community College. She lives, happily ever after, with her husband and three sons in a house filled with fairy tale books. She is also The Fairy Tale Magazine's special project’s writer.