REVIEW: PRACTICAL MAGIC (4*)
by Alice Hoffman (Vintage, 2002)
I'm afraid I ruined this book for myself somewhat by having already seen the film a fair few times. Back before I'd even heard of Alice Hoffman, Practical Magic was one of my favourite movies! As so often happens when I watch an adaptation first, I found myself comparing screen to page too often, and inadvertently reading certain parts faster than I should, waiting for the two versions to tie up again.
This, however, is not Hoffman's fault in any way, hence my 4-star rating. It might even have toppled The Ice Queen from its position as my favourite Hoffman novel so far, had it not been for the movie thing. Anyone who's read Hoffman before knows what to expect: a beautifully written, wistful novel blending elements of magic (and more subtle magical realism) with strong, unusual characters and an exploration of the bonds we form with places, lovers and family.
In Practical Magic the story revolves around Gillian and Sally, the beautiful Owens sisters. Orphaned at a young age, they have had a strange upbringing in their aunts' house, where they are simultaneously feared and revered by the local townspeople. Desperate to escape, Gillian runs away to seek her own path and Sally marries a wonderful man and has two headstrong daughters. But when Sally loses her husband in a tragic accident, and Gillian accidentally kills hers, the two are reunited at last. Will Sally's teenage daughters, Kylie and Antonia, make peace with each other and be happy? Will Gillian and the aunts reconcile their differences? Will Sally ever find love again? And will they finally escape the dark and vengeful spirit of Gillian's abusive husband, which casts its bitter shadow across their whole existence?
If you've seen the film, read this anyway - but go into it with a more open mind than I did, because there are substantial differences between the two. If you haven't seen the film, then I highly recommend the book. Hoffman is such a lyrical and haunting writer, and Gillian, Sally and their quirky aunts are some of the most appealing and relatable characters I've come across in her books yet. I still love the movie though!
- ""Fourth time's the charm," she says to people who ask her what the secret of a happy marriage is, but that's not the way she feels about it. She knows now that when you don't lose yourself in the bargain, you find you have double the love you started with, and that's one recipe that can't be tampered with."
- "There are some things, after all, that Sally Owens knows for certain: Always throw spilled salt over your left shoulder. Keep rosemary by your garden gate. Add pepper to your mashed potatoes. Plant roses and lavender, for luck. Fall in love whenever you can."