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The Invisible Hour

A Novel

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About The Book

The latest New York Times bestseller from beloved author Alice Hoffman celebrates the enduring magic of books and is a “wonderful story of love and growth” (Stephen King).

One 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. 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?

From “the reigning queen of magical realism” (Kristin Hannah, New York Times bestselling author), this is the story of one woman’s dream. For a little while it came true.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Invisible Hour includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Alice Hoffman. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

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.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. We first meet Mia in the prologue as she tries to escape The Community. How does the prologue set the tone for the rest of the story?

2. Ivy tells people she grew up “west of the moon.” Where does this phrase come from and why do you think this is her response?

3. Joel proposes to Ivy very quickly upon her arrival at The Community. What drew him to her and what were her motivations for accepting?

4. The relationship between Helen and Ivy feels similar to Mia’s with Sarah and Constance. How do they mirror each other? What, if any, are the major differences of these relationships?

5. Helen tells Mia that Ivy “should have had the choice to decide what to do with her own body and her own fate” (p. 99). The theme of choice is brought up throughout the story. Discuss the choices presented to Ivy when she found out she was pregnant (sent away, adoption, runaway, marriage to the father). How has this scenario changed or not over time?

6. How do the settings—Boston, Concord, New York—act as characters within the story?

7. Each female character has her own version of strength—Ivy choosing to leave her home and start over, Constance and Sarah building their family and later dealing with loss, Elizabeth’s familial loyalty, and Mia rescuing herself—as the reader, do you relate to any of these women? If so, please discuss who and why.

8. Discuss Nathaniel’s need to be a writer even throughout his depressive episodes. Do you think writing brought him a sense of comfort or dread? How were his sisters integral to his success?

9. Elizabeth brings Mia to the Hill of Death (p. 167). What was her motivation to do so? Why is Elizabeth so skeptical of Mia? Where does her mistrust stem from?

10. Discuss Joel’s ultimate demise. How is he bested by women for the final time?

11. Why do you think Mia returned to Nathaniel’s time? What was she hoping to achieve?

12. How is Mia’s choice to raise her daughter alone similar to Ivy’s choice? Do you believe Mia learned from her mother’s mistakes?

Enhance Your Book Club

The library acts as a sanctuary for Mia and continues to be so as she grows up. Have libraries been a part of turning you into a reader? What are some of your favorite memories including a library? Visit your local library and see what programs they may have.

The Invisible Hour is a fictional story of how The Scarlet Letter came to be. Pick up a copy and read (or reread) the Scarlet Letter and see if you can pick out the similarities between the Puritans and The Community.

Many of the places mentioned in The Invisible Hour are real places, like The House of the Seven Gables. Plan a trip to Salem and explore where Nathaniel Hawthorne lived—or check out more information at 7gables.org

A Conversation with Alice Hoffman

Q: Why Nathaniel Hawthorne as a love interest?

A: Nathaniel Hawthorne was said to have been extremely handsome, as handsome as Byron, and he was also charming even though he was known to be shy. He was a doting husband and father, and he wrote about the rights of women. What’s not to love?

Q: What draws you to writing stories so deeply set in Massachusetts?

A: I’ll always be a New Yorker, but for me Massachusetts is filled with magic. Massachusetts has a great literary history. It’s also beautiful and mysterious and my adopted home.

Q: Did you set out to write a novel so deeply rooted in women’s empowerment? How did it evolve to include time travel?

A: I started to think about The Scarlet Letter and how modern-day issues for women are not that foreign from issues in that time period. I’m not certain I realized when I first read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s great novel what the deeper meaning of his heroine’s situation is—she has no say over her body or her choices and yet, she does make her own choices. It’s a very brave book.

I’ve always wanted to time travel and been drawn to books about time travel. I think during the time of Covid, when I was writing this, more than ever I want it to be in another time period.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from The Invisible Hour?

A: I hope they find hope in The Invisible Hour something I was and still am searching for.

Q: Each female character in the story has her own strength—is there one you most identify with?

A: I think as the author, I identify with all the characters because they’re all part of my consciousness. But I definitely realize that I was writing about my own relationship with my mother because I think that the mother-daughter relationship is the most complicated and interesting.

Q: What inspired you to write this specific story?

A: As a reader, I wanted to write about how books can change your life.

Q: Just for fun—is there an author you wish you could travel in time to?

A: Oh, I’d love to travel back in time and talk to the Brontë sisters.

Q: Are you working on anything new you can share with your readers?

A: I am working on a biblical book, so it’s completely different and it’s about two women who have never been able to tell their own stories.

About The Author

© Alyssa Peek

Alice Hoffman is the author of more than thirty works of fiction, including The Book of Magic, Magic Lessons, The World That We Knew, Practical Magic, The Rules of Magic (a Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick), the Oprah’s Book Club Selection Here on Earth, The Red Garden, The Dovekeepers, The Museum of Extraordinary Things, The Marriage of Opposites, and Faithful. She lives near Boston.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (August 15, 2023)
  • Length: 272 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982175375

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Raves and Reviews

"I was immediately immersed in The Invisible Hour. It’s a wonderful story of love and growth, but it’s also a narrative engine of great power. Alice Hoffman is wonderful on stories and writing."

-- Stephen King, New York Times bestselling author of FAIRYTALE

What a thrill to discover Nathaniel Hawthorne in the pages of Alice Hoffman’s exquisite new novel, The Invisible Hour! And what delight to experience the melding, across the centuries, of two prodigious American literary imaginations—Hoffman’s and Hawthorne’s—in this redemptive tale of daughters and mothers and one true love for a man and his book.

Megan Marshall, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Peabody Sisters, Margaret Fuller: A New American Life, and Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast

"Alice Hoffman's The Invisible Hour is a rich, immersive, magical reading experience. This beautiful novel is about the stories women tell each other and the ones that save us, about the price and peril of motherhood, and the difficulties women have faced throughout history in controlling their own fates. Alice Hoffman, the reigning queen of magical realism, takes her readers on a fantastic, mystical journey that celebrates the joy and power of reading and dares to believe in the impossible."

Kristin Hannah, New York Times bestselling author of The Four Winds

"The incomparable Alice Hoffman has written a transcendent novel that will stay with you all of your reading life. Ivy Jacob is broken beyond repair when she enters a community without books. Soon, her daughter Mia is born into the same world, her fate is also sealed, until the girl steals away and finds respite in a forbidden library. As Mia reads, she disappears into the story as readers do and finds herself there, in a place and time that will unlock her destiny. The Invisible Hour is an inventive yet practical fairytale where the prince is Nathaniel Hawthorne, freedom is love andbooks are our salvation. And frankly, when that book is written by Alice Hoffman, we be truly redeemed."

Adriana Trigiani, New York Times bestselling author of The Good Left Undone

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