Book Review: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

practical magicWhen 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.

From my TBR pile and given to me as a birthday present. The edition I read was published by Random House.

I watched this film not long after it came out in 1998 and is one of the few  films that I’ve ever considered reading the original book it was based on, and 15 or so years later, I did!  The book and the film are definitely different, but the overall story of the film remains true to the book and actually plays to the strengths of the 4 main adult actresses: Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Stockard Channing, Diane Wiest.

 

Gillian being the beautiful but wild one, who can never be tied down and is breaking hearts long before she runs away from her aunts and her sister.

Sally is the older, more sensible one, practical, vegetarian, science based one who soon rejects anything that cant be proved with evidence. Her aunts, being the local witches, are shunned by most during the day, but have their advice sought as soon as dusk makes their visitors’ identity hidden.

The book is split up into four chapters, each covering a specific part of the girls’ life.

Superstition is about the girls growing up with the aunts, and learning the price of your heart’s desire.  It finishes with Gillian already having escaped, and Sally moving away with her daughters Antonia and Kylie (the first set of differences with the film, where Sally never moves away and Antonia and Kylie have a much smaller part).

Premonitions is where Gillian finds Sally and the girls (who are now teenagers) in their house, and brings trouble in the form of the dead body of Gillian’s boyfriend Jimmy. Sally is the one person Gillian can talk to – she is scared of the Aunts and doesnt feel she has the right or the want to ask for their help.

Clairvoyance is where Gillian settles in, finds new beau, but things turn for the worse including Jimmy haunting the garden. The lilac tree – under which Jimmy is buried – seems to grow amazingly, attracting weeping love lorn women, until the tree is cut down and burnt. Kylie and Antonia have a much bigger part than what is presented in the film – Antonia is similar to Gillian in the heart breaking skills, and Kylie – tall, ungainly, and sharing a room with her aunt – is soon influenced by Gillian’s behaviour, until she feels betrayed by not being the centre of Gillian’s world.

Levitation finds Gary seeking Jimmy whose malevolent energy continues to haunt the garden. The girls realise they have to call the aunts in to help and turn up the older women do, in their own style of course. The tables have definitely turned on Sally and Gillian. Gillian has finally found someone she wants to fight for and who is probably worth stability and staying put.She also realises that perhaps she is worth what the Aunts are prepared to bring. Sally has had the stability, and found that denying her past and her skills has brought her very little joy. The presence of Gary in her life – even briefly – makes her wonder whether the perceived stability is worth not having him in her life.

Gary makes a very short appearance in the book – but Aidan Quinn is a large part of the movie. In the book Jimmy turns up already dead, but Goran Visnjic has a much bigger part as the threatening ghost of Jimmy – in no small nod to his status as “taking over from George Clooney as the ER hunk” status – no complaints from me on either point!.

The story is told very much in the “epic third person” where it’s a rather lyrical, sweeping, portions of time being swept away – there is very little dialogue between characters and whole decades disappear in a blink of an eye.

So: I love both the film AND the book, which is quite rare for me. Whilst the film is different from the book, there’s at least enough of the spirit of the book kept within it (helped by Hoffman being one of the scriptwriters) to make me satisfied.

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

    • that’s ok! I’ve got a google alert out on “books to film” and it’s amazing how many films are based, even loosely, on books

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    • I believe Hoffman worked on the film too, so for once, managed to have some creative control over how the film ended up. It’s rare that authors can get listened to on films

      Like

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