Review: Practical Magic

Review: Practical MagicPractical Magic by Alice Hoffman
Published by Berkley on August 5, 2003
Genres: Magical Realism, Romance
Pages: 286
Format: Paperback
Source: Library

The bestselling author of Second Nature, Illumination Night and Turtle Moon now offers her most fascinating and tantalizingly accomplished novel yet -- a winning tale that amply confirms Alice Hoffman's reputation not only as a genius of the vivid scene and unforgettable character but as one of America's most captivating storytellers.

When the beautiful and precocious sisters Sally and Gillian Owens are orphaned at a young age, they are taken to a small Massachusetts town to be raised by their eccentric aunts, who happen to dwell in the darkest, eeriest house in town. As they become more aware of their aunts' mysterious and sometimes frightening powers -- and as their own powers begin to surface -- the sisters grow determined to escape their strange upbringing by blending into "normal" society.

But both find that they cannot elude their magic-filled past. And when trouble strikes -- in the form of a menacing backyard ghost -- the sisters must not only reunite three generations of Owens women but embrace their magic as a gift -- and their key to a future of love and passion. Funny, haunting, and shamelessly romantic, Practical Magic is bewitching entertainment -- Alice Hoffman at her spectacular best.

Of the three Alice Hoffman books I have read, this one is by far the best. Those familiar with the movie may expect the book to be a romance, and that is an aspect of it, but what the book is really about is family and, even more specifically, sisterhood. Though the book focuses on Sally and Gillian, the reader also learns details from the lives of the aunts and of Sally’s two daughters. The connections between these three sets of sisters are vastly different, but all completely necessary and strong, even if it sometime takes a while for them to realize the importance of the connection or value one another entirely.

As with the other Alice Hoffman books I have read thus far, I was not particularly connected to any of the characters. They always seem to have a real distance to them that I cannot bridge. The result is that I never bond with them. Often, this ruins books for me, as characterization is the first thing I look for in a book. Of course, this is not to say that the characters in Practical Magic are not interesting, because they are, but that they did not take up a special residence in my heart as I read.

What drew me into the novel above all was the language and the magic. The diction and syntax in this novel has a simple beauty to it that I very much appreciated. This style worked perfectly in conjunction with the magic woven through the novel, especially since the magic was done in a very magical realism sort of way. Most of the magic done is not in spells, but in just making use of natural laws; much of it isn’t intentional, rather it just is. This book reminded me a lot of Sarah Addison Allen’s, so, if you liked those, definitely give Practical Magic a read. I even wonder if this book may have been an influence on Allen.

Practical Magic is a lovely story for those who want to believe that magic exists in the world and that true love may just be out there, although it may not be that easy to find or keep.


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