Review: ‘Practical Magic’ by Alice Hoffman

Image from here

Blurb for the book:

Sisters Gillian and Sally Owens were brought up by their two elderly guardian aunts in a world of spells and exotica. As the magical charm of their childhood wears away, they escape from this mystical mayhem – one by running away, the other by marrying.

Many years go by before strange circumstances thrust them together again, and once more they are in a place that blends the mundane and mysterious, the familiar and fantastic. Three generations of Owens women are brought together in an experience of unexpected insight and revelation, teaching all of them that such perceptions are rare and wonderful and – to be sure – practical.

Blurb for the FILM:

Sisters Sally and Gillian Owens (Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman) are both afflicted by the same curse – their lovers always die before their time. Two new suitors are on the scene (Aidan Quinn and Goran Visnjic), but it may take a few spells from the sisters’ supernaturally gifted aunts (Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing) to keep their loves alive.

I’d been dying to read this book for ages, as Practical Magic is one of my favourite films (with THE BEST drinking-party scene EVER, and with the best music too- or as I like to think of it, the ‘lime and coconut song.’*)

The book itself is written in a style both languidly sensuous and raw, with pages upon pages of description, metaphors and memorable imagery. (For instance, at one point Gillian smells like ‘heat and sugar.’) In a magical realist style, it follows the intersecting lives of the Owens women- sisters Gillian and Sally, Sally’s slightly dreamy, slightly wayward daughters and their madcap, adorable aunts (who, with lines like ‘in this house, we have chocolate cake for breakfast!’ became my favourite characters in the film.) It has different sections for each character, differing viewpoints and stories, including a rather winding tale about a lightning attack that proved ultimately crucial, but rather confusing. And while the imagery was powerful and arresting, with the minutiae of everday life fighting with sensual, idiosyncratic magic, I felt as though some elements didn’t work- for instance, Gillian’s relationship with a part-time magician just felt a little too laboured.I also felt as though the curse was explained better in the film. Ultimately, I still prefer the film- it’s simpler, stronger and more sinister in tone, as well as being amazingly acted- but I’m looking forward to reading more of Alice Hoffman’s work.
Overall rating: 7 out of 10. Read the book, then watch the film for magic, romance, fun, and ‘midnight margaritas!’**Drink responsibly, folks!
**See asterisk above! 🙂

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