The Invisible Hour by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I picked up The Invisible Hour because has a very interesting premise: What if books could save you literally?
It sure seems that way for Mia Jacob, whose discovery of the forbidden pleasures of reading gives her the courage and independence to leave the abusive cult she grew up in. And then, as the book blurb says, "time is more fluid than she imagines" and she "makes her way back in time".
For one who picked up the book on the basis of this really cool time-travel promise (with books at its heart!), the problem is that it takes a very long time to get there. Part One, which is about half the book iirc, is about how Mia's mom ran away to the Community, the dynamics between Ivy and Joel Davis - and Mia, Mia growing up there, and how she manages to escape through the power of books... which does make an interesting story, but I'm not really into cult stories as a general premise. I nearly wanted to give up when I finally got to Part 2, which jumps back in time to Nathaniel Hawthorn's timeline in the 1800s and how he meets this strange redhead who changes his life.
Reading other reviews, I suppose this is where the book either fails or succeeds - either you like the time travel or you hate it. I kinda liked the time travel bit, but I was annoyed it took so long to get there.
I did like how Hoffman dealt with the whole changing-the-past paradox, though. If Mia stays in the past, would Hawthorne never write the book that saves her? But Mia can't stay in the present, with Joel Davis still intent on claiming her (To keep as his own? To kill? It could go either way). Hoffman managed to handle that perfectly, closing the circle so the paradox ends.
However, why and how Mia time travels is never explained.(view spoiler)[ It just happens, she thinks it's the book, but is it?? No one knows. And if it's the book, how does Joel manage to follow her to the past? Is it actually some portal then? But then there would be multiple portals... so why hasn't anyone else stumbled across them? I'm also slightly annoyed that the ending is just a bit too ambiguous about whether she made it home to the present or not. (hide spoiler)] I've never read any Hoffman book before (at least that I recall), but she does seem to write more contemporary fiction with magical elements, veering towards magical realism. (There's a complexity/debate to what actually constitutes magical realism that I don't think I'm ready to figure out, so...idk.) So maybe that's how it's done in this kind of genre?? I suppose since it's more contemporary fic than strict SFF, the how and why doesn't matter as much - but seeing that this is the ONLY instance of time travel, it does feel rather contrived.
I suppose if you like a mash up of contemporary and historical fic with a dash of romance and time travel, you'll like this book.
Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from Atria Books via Edelweiss. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
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