Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Review: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

For more than two hundred years, the Owens women have been blamed for everything that has gone wrong in town.
[First Sentence]

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
Berkley Signature Edition, 1995
Fiction; 286 pgs

It has been ages since I have seen the movie version of the book, Practical Magic, and so I am unable to draw distinct parallels between the two. I still could not get Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman out of my head, however, as I imagined the two sisters, Gillian and Sally.

The sisters were orphaned at a young age when their parents were killed in an accident. They are raised by two rather eccentric aunts. Everyone in town fears the aunts and is quick to lay blame at their door for bad things that happen in town, but when it comes to matters of love, the townsfolk are more than ready to seek their help. The aunts are well known for their magic charms and potions in dealing with love.

Growing up, the two sisters, Gillian and Sally, wanted nothing more than to be normal. They were bullied and teased at school, ostracized because of their family reputation of witchery, and raised without much structure and discipline. Sally, the oldest of the two siblings, was the more responsible one—studious, diligent, and trying to do right. She was the one who made sure the family ate right and kept the house in order. Her sister, Gillian, was more of a free spirit. She was into boys and liked to goof off whenever she could. She was the dreamer in the family, whereas Sally was the practical one.

Both girls wanted to get away from their past and lead as normal of lives as possible. Gillian takes flight in the middle of the night to get married at the age of 18. Sally, however, stays behind and finds love only to be devastated by its loss. She finally has had enough, taking her two daughters and fleeing to New York to start her own life—one not influenced by her aunts or the family history.

The sisters, like all the Owens women, seem to be unlucky in love. Gillian cannot stay in a relationship long and Sally has tuned out that part of her, focusing solely on raising her daughters and trying to be as normal as possible. Things seem to be working out well for Sally until one fateful night when her sister shows up on her doorstep with a burden that will test the sisters’ relationship as well as their own individual spirits.

I fell in love with Alice Hoffman’s writing style when I read The Probable Future a couple of years ago, and I continue to be enamored with it after having read Practical Magic. There is lightness to her writing and yet it is lyrical in style. The characters are easy to relate to and empathize with. I most could identify with Sally, the bookworm of the bunch, perhaps in part because I know what it is like to be the older sister, the responsible one.

The theme of sisterhood and mother/daughter relationships runs throughout the book. Gillian and Sally had a unique relationship with their aunts—they were there for the girls during the worst moments of their lives and yet, as often children do, the girls rebelled against them in their own individual ways. Likewise, Sally’s daughters did the same, but in relation to their mother. Antonia and Kylie’s own relationship with each other, as well as Sally and Gillian’s, was mixed with animosity and sisterly devotion. They were there for each other when it counted most and yet could not shake off the envy and feeling of constant competition with each other.

Love was also a major theme in the book. Each of the Owens women had known the joy of love as well as the bitter side. They managed their feelings in different ways, and yet their longing for love was very similar. The aunts knew of love and loss better than anyone. Gillian and Sally were not sure they would ever find it again. And Kylie and Antonia, Sally’s daughters, were only beginning to learn about love.

As can be expected in a novel written by Alice Hoffman, there are hints of magic weaved throughout the novel. It is never over the top or out of place. Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic is a beautiful and charming story about love and self-discovery. I look forward to reading more by this author.

Rating: * (Very Good)

Check out the author's website for more information about her books.


  1. I remember wanting to watch the movie, but somehow I never did. But i never knew it was based on a book. I'll have to track it down.

  2. Alice Hoffman is a wonderful author, so I'm not surprised you liked the book.

  3. Alice Hoffman is one of my favourites - it's been awhile since I read this one though. Might be time to reread it!

  4. I read this one years ago, but haven't seen the movie (probably just as well). I've read a lot of Hoffman, but she's lost some of her appeal for me over time. I like the way she uses magical realism, but she seems to have gone a little heavy on the Gothic-romance elements in some of her more recent works, and that's not so much to my taste. I'm open to giving her another shot, though.

    Thanks for the great review!

  5. I watched the movie years ago. The book is probably much better.

    I've never read Alice Hoffman but have heard great things about her.

    Great review, Wendy. I think I'd like this one after reading your thoughts on it.

  6. I watched the movie years ago and my sister and I loved it. We didn't know it was based on a book though until recently. This year I read Alice Hoffman for the first time, her book The River King and LOVED it. I'm definitely going to be picking up this book. Thanks for the review!

  7. I'm sure I'm going to love this book! I plan on reading it soon (probably as soon as the copy I mooched arrives), and now thanks to you I'm looking forward to it even more :)

  8. I had no idea this was a book! I think I'll have to add it to my wish list.

  9. LOVED this book! Nice to see an oldie, but a goodie, pop up today. Now if I can just figure out what's for dinner.

  10. I haven't seen this movie or anything, but the concept always interested me. I think maybe its it my netflix queue. But I had no idea it's based on a book! How cool!

  11. I read this a long time ago and really, really loved it! I've always meant to read another book by this author but somehow never got around to it.

  12. I've not read anything by Alice Hoffman yet, but this sounds like a book I'd enjoy! I'll have to look out for the movie version too. :)

  13. I have not ever read this. I love the movie and have hesitated over the book because if I love the movie, I usually don't like the book. I'm usually even more prejudiced when I read the book first and then see the movie. Hmmm...

    Your review makes me want to try it though. I'll think on it or maybe just watch the movie again. It has a great soundtrack.

  14. I hate it when I see the movie first and can't get the characters out of my head!! Great review!!

  15. I haven't seen this movie or read the book, but now I want to do both! (book first, of course)! However, I'm sure when I read it, I will be imagining Bullock and Kidman as the sisters. That's ok though, I really like both actresses!

    I've seen several other reviews of Hoffman's books since I started blogging, and I REALLY need to read her books!

  16. Violet - I am not sure I knew it was based on a book when I first saw the movie either. I have seen the movie since writing the review. There's quite a few differences between the two.

    Kathy - She is wonderful! I love her writing style.

    Michelle - She's one of my favorites too, even only having just read two of her books. :-)

    Florinda - Thanks! I haven't read any of her newer stuff yet, but I imagine I will give it a try. I like the way she uses magical realism too. I don't always have luck with books that use that particular device.

    Shana - Thank you! I did like the book better, although I enjoyed the movie for what it was too. I really should learn not to watch the movie right after I read a book though--then I see every difference as big as life.

    Amanda - I am glad to hear you enjoyed the River King. I hope to read that one someday. I have heard great things about it.

    Nymeth - Oh good! I look forward to reading your thoughts on it. It is a good story.

    Kris - It's a good one and I hope you will like it if you do read it.

    Karen - It really is good, isn't it? I hope you enjoyed your dinner, whatever you decided to have. :-) We ended up with take out tonight.

    Kim - I don't believe I knew it was a book before seeing the movie the first time either. I've had the book on my shelf for awhile now though and figured this was a good time to read it. I'm so glad I did.

    Melody - You really should read this one, Melody!

    Kay - I can understand that. A friend mentioned recently that she preferred the movie to the book. And they are different enough that I can understand why.

    Kristina - Thanks! I don't especially care for it either. I'd rather form my own image of the characters than have the movie stars stuck in my head.

    Laura - Oh, yes! I tend to prefer to read the book first myself (with a few minor exceptions). Had I known this was a book before first seeing the movie, I would have wanted to read it beforehand, I think. I think Kidman and Bullock did a good job in the movie and so I don't think you'll be disappointed in the casting. :-)

  17. I used to read Alice Hoffman all the time, but it has been ages since I picked a book up by her! I have read this one, though... I also like the movie, but that is not something I like to admit. haha

  18. I'll have to read this one again sometime, but I remember after reading that I distinctly liked the movie the better. It wasn't that the book was bad, far from it, I think I just liked the interactions between the characters in the movie better than in the book (which is rare! I usually prefer the book over a movie, with just a few rare exceptions, this being one of them).

  19. I have never read this book but I loved the movie so I will have to read it now. I also need to read WITCHES OF EASTWICK since Updike's long-awaited sequel is soon to come out!

  20. Hi Wendy, this sounds like something that I'd definitely like to read. I've not read anything by Alice Hoffman before but it's never too late! :)

  21. I haven't read the book, but I just caught the end of the movie just in the last couple of days. I hadn't seen it before, either. I've now added this to my wishlist. Thanks for the reveiw!

  22. This sounds like a really great story. I don't recall ever seeing the movie nor have I read this author - though I have heard of her. I will have to change that and pick up a book by her.
    Great review!

  23. This sounds good. I have yet to read anything by Alice Hoffman, although I do have Blackbird House in my TBR mountain.

  24. I love this movie and have always been afraid that my feelings would color the reading of the book (as it has with other movies I really enjoyed). I'll have to keep this one in mind, though...sounds magical ;) My husband and I just booked plane tickets to New England and I'm hoping I can steer him in the direction of Salem for a little witch trial history.

  25. Ohhhh ... another title to add to my "must read" list!

    I left you something at my blog :o)

  26. I ike Alice Hoffman a lot, I did like the movie PRACTICAL MAGIC but read the book first, this goes back a while.

    Have a wonderful week-end my friend

    Sylvie Madeleine

  27. Hoffman sounds like an author I need to check out. Thanks for another great review but I have a question - who played which role in the movie and what was it called?


  28. CJ - The movie shares the same title as the book, Practical Magic, so it's easy to remember. :-) Sally is played by Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman played Gillian. The character descriptions of the two aren't that different, actually.

    Sylvie - I am glad you enjoyed both! I hope you are enjoying your weekend too.

    Terri - It's a good book. I hope you will like it if you read it.

    Trish - I can understand that. It's hard not to be tainted by one or the other.

    I hope you do get to visit Salem! I wouldn't want to skip that either. :-)

    Nat - I have enjoyed what I have read by her so far. I like her take on magical realism--it's so real, which I suppose is the purpose. Haha

    April - Thank you! If you do get a chance, do try something by Alice Hoffman.

    Lisa - It's an interesting story--both versions. :-)

    Alice - I think you would like it, Alice. I hope you'll give Hoffman a try.

    Amy - You just answered my question about why Witches of Eastwick is suddenly everywhere! I hadn't realized Updike was writing a sequel. It's my chance to read the first one though, so I'm grateful. That's one I didn't know had been based on a book before recently.

    David - I think there was more interaction between the characters in the movie because of the way the film was put together, and that may explain why you liked the movie over the book in that regard. The movie went a lot faster and was a bit more action packed than the book, whereas the novel was much more reflective, I thought.

    Kailana - I take it you didn't care for the movie? :-)

  29. The only Hoffman book I've read is Skylight Confessions. This one sounds good, but I can't motivate myself to read books after I've seen the movie, even thought the books usually are much better. Great review!


  30. What a lovely cover. I really enjoyed the film and the two books I have read by Hoffman so far. I will get around to this as I think she is an amazing writer. Glad you enjoyed it so much.

  31. It is sad that I have not only not read this book but I also haven't seen the film based on it...and I am a HUGE Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock fan. Bad me!

    Love the cover on this book, btw.

  32. I've never read this one either. But I did really enjoy the movie. I read Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen which totally reminded me of the movie. I'm really glad you liked this one....maybe I will have to pick it up some day!

  33. Anna - Thank you! I sometimes feel that way too, I admit.

    Rhinoa - I like the cover too. :-) I hope you enjoy this one when you get to it.

    Carl V. - Then you must remedy that right away. Read the book and see the movie--or vice versa, depending on your preference. :-)

    Stephanie - I have heard wonderful things about Garden Spells. I'm looking forward to reading that one.

  34. I enjoyed this book very much, but I would recommend Blackbird House even more! It's Hoffman's most mature work to date in terms of writing style. Magical, wonderful, riveting!

  35. Oooo! Another Alice Hoffman book to read! Thank you for the recommendation, Andi!

  36. I love this movie, I'm going to start the book, but if you like Alice Hoffman, you should definatly read 'Green Angle'. It is one of the greatest books I've ever read, it'ss very short, but amazing, and unforgetable.

  37. Anonymous - Thanks for the recommendation! I am definitely interested in reading everything I can get my hands on by Alice Hoffman. :-)


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