Friday, February 23, 2018

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Image result for practical magic book

I like a bit of magic. Not hardcore magic of boiled lizard tongues and scavenged feathers of a raven, but the gentle magic of scented herbs to keep away misfortune or the use of crystals to bring good luck.

There is some of both in Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. It is the story of the Owens sisters Sally and Gillian. They come from a long line of women with special powers. Men fall in love with their beauty in a heartbeat.  Fortune and misfortune follow them.

The two young sisters go to live with The Aunts after their parents die. The sisters are about as opposite as can be. Sally the older one is dark-haired and sensible and conscientious. Gillian is blonde and rebellious and idle.

The Aunts call them Night and Day.

The story follows the sisters growing up, finding love, and losing love. Then, after 18 years apart, when Gillian shows up on Sally's doorstep with a desperate secret, it becomes the story of how the sisters come together to handle the consequences.

But more than the spellbinding story is the language Ms. Hoffman uses to tell that story.  It is hypnotic. The images are dreamy. Full of sudden storms and slick toads in the garden and a lilac bush that blooms all year round. Twilight becomes the hour of sorrow. Lightning strikes bring grief and heartbreak. 

Be forewarned: In contrast to the rhythmic language, there are rough words and episodes of violence which I found to be quite jarring. Perhaps that was the point.

I have a vague memory of reading this book when it first was published in 1995, and I recall seeing the 1998 movie with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. I have rented the DVD and am ready to watch it again now that I have finished the book.

I wanted to reread Practical Magic upon hearing that Rules of Magic was published last October. It is Ms. Hoffman's story of The Aunts, their mother Susannah, and how they came into their powers. I have now moved up to #8 on the library's reserve list for the book. I will eventually write about it here.

In the meantime, here is a sample of gentle counsel from Practical Magic:

If a woman is in trouble, she should always wear blue for protection. Blue shoes or a blue dress. A sweater the color of a robin's egg or a scarf the shade of heaven. A thin satin ribbon, carefully threaded through the white lace hem of a slip. Any of these will do. But if a candle burns blue, that is something else entirely, that's no luck at all, for it means there's a spirit in your house. And if the flame should flicker, then grow stronger each time the candle is lit, the spirit is settling in. Its essence is wrapping around the furniture and the floorboards, it's claiming the cabinets and the closets and will soon be rattling windows and doors.


  1. It's been a long time since I read this book--I read it after seeing the movie--but I remember liking it. :)

    1. Hi, Lark. I think 'Practical Magic' is worth a reread. I am interested in seeing how the movie handles the story now that I have just read the book again. And I look forward to reading the prequel.

    2. Can't wait to hear what you think of the prequel. I haven't read that one yet. :)

  2. I don't think I've ever read anything by Alice Hoffman. I do like the sound of the writing. Will have to put her on the TBR list.

    1. Hi, Kathy. I have only read a few of her books. There is another one, Turtle Moon, that is sort of a mystery and takes place in Florida. I may read that next or I may just wait for the prequel to 'Practical Magic' to come into my life from the library reserve list.