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The best-selling author of Second Nature, Illumination Night and Turtle Moon now offers her most fascinating and tantalizingly accomplished novel yet -- a winning tale that amply confirms Alice Hoffman's reputation not only as a genius of the vivid scene and unforgettable character but as one of America's most captivating storytellers.
When 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.
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|Listening Length||3 hours and 6 minutes|
|Audible.com Release Date||March 19, 2010|
|Publisher||Simon & Schuster Audio|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #23,692 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#302 in Fiction Sagas
#1,047 in Literary Fiction (Audible Books & Originals)
#1,057 in Women's Fiction (Audible Books & Originals)
Reviewed in the United States on September 14, 2021
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After the untimely death of their parents in a fire, two sisters Sally and Gillian are taken in by their eccentric Aunts. Due to their family's reputation for being witches, Sally and Gillian are harassed and ostracized by their peers and so have no one to turn to but each other. The two sisters couldn't be more unlike one another. Sally, the eldest sibling, copes by being the perfect child. She cooks nutritional dinners, washes and hangs the laundry and always goes to bed on time. Gillian, however, dreams of being free from the house, the Aunts, the taunting and teasing of the boys who fear her.
However, the sisters have one thing in common. They spend many nights in the shadows of the landing above the stairs in their house listening to their Aunts ply their trade as witches who specialize in affairs of the heart. They listen to the women who come to their Aunts desperate to gain love. The sisters see the toll that unrequited love takes on a woman and are disgusted at the lengths these desperate women will go to in order to obtain the one they desire. Consequently, both of the girls are afraid to love.
In an expanded subplot from the movie, as the story unfolds we actually get to see the long-term results of the love spell performed on behalf of one of the Aunts clients and the consequences of the magic invoked one night with little forethought and much desperation.
Gillian escapes the house on Magnolia Street by running off with a boy in the middle of the night after having spiked their Aunts soup so she wouldn't be caught. She finds herself unable to settle on any one guy, not for very long. However that doesn't stop her from getting married three times. Sally, on the other hand, stays with the Aunts and fills her days working in the garden, doing household chores, and shopping at the hardware store for cleaning supplies.
Sally finally meets a man named Michael at the hardware store. They fall in love, get married and have two daughters Antonia and Kylie. For a time, she is happy. Nonetheless, the death-watch beetle begins to mark off Michael's time on earth and he is doomed to die. At first Sally doesn't believe her Aunts when they tell her, until she slowly begins to believe their warnings and Sally goes to the Aunts for help. Having already secretly done everything they were able, the Aunts could offer no advice but to accept the inevitable.
After Michael's death, Sally goes into a deep depression which last for exactly one year. During that time the Aunts become Antonia and Kyle's main caregivers. When Sally comes out of her depression, she witnesses that her daughters are now being subjected to the same harassment that she and her sisters suffered through so many years ago. She then decides to do just as her sister had done years before. She uses Michael's insurance money and some of her own savings to move away from the Aunts and start a new life in New York. There she attempts to give her daughters something that she herself felt that she never had...a normal life.
Rather than opening her own business as in the movie, Sally takes a job as a school secretary so that she can be home when her daughters come home from school and the job has the added bonus of allowing her to have summers off. Just when it seems that Sally has achieved her goal of a normal life, Gillian shows up on her doorstep one hot summer night with Jimmy Hawkins, her dead boyfriend, in her car.
Gillian fears that she has murdered Jimmy because she had been slipping him nightshade every night to prevent him from getting drunk and consequently hurting her. It seems that though Jimmy has a long history of hurting, even murdering, the ones around him Gillian is compelled to love him and like many abused women, can't seem to leave her abuser. Not even her magic seems strong enough to take away her love for him. This is in direct contrast with all her previous experiences with men, in that since the time she was a teenager men and boys fell in love with her at first sight. She often had them wrapped around her little finger and just when they thought their love was secure---she left the relationship. The sisters ultimately decide to bury Jimmy in the backyard and forget about the entire incident.
The book then begins to focus on the relationship between Sally's daughters Antonia and Kylie. Being teenagers, the girls have a strained relationship. Like Sally and Gillian, they appear to be more unlike that alike in their outlook and attitudes. Antonia is more like her Aunt Gillian--beautiful, spoiled, wild, and carefree; whereas Kylie is more like her mother--responsible, introverted, and sensitive. It is only when Kylie's beauty threatens to outshine her own that Antonia begins to contemplate her future and what she has to offer the world, rather than what the world has to offer her. As Kylie develops physically, she becomes surer of herself and more aware of her own beauty. It is only after she is almost sexually assaulted that Antonia and Kylie renew their sisterly bond.
Throughout these events, Gillian has formed a relationship with Kylie who looks to her Aunt as a role model for what she believes a woman should be. Thus further strains the relationship between Sally and Gillian as Sally feels that her daughters are still babies, and is not eager to see them grow up just yet. Jimmy's ghostly influence uses their resentment for one another to further destroy Sally and Gillian's sisterly bond and drive them apart forever. Jimmy's spirit seems to take over the back yard where he is buried. The lilacs grow great lengths overnight and their scent draws the attention of the neighborhood women who come to the garden gate to look at them. It seems that the scent of the lilacs stir painful memories in these women, who uncontrollably weep when these memories resurface. Jimmy's influence reaches into the house as well, as food begins to spoil overnight and dead creatures are found in the toilet and sink.
On Kylie's 13th birthday, she develops the ability to see auras and other mystical phenomena. It is her that eventually causes Sally and Gillian to realize that Jimmy's spirit is attacking not only the house, but Sally and Gillian themselves. After Sally cuts down the lilacs, things seem to improve. Antonia's biology teacher, Ben Frye, falls in love with Gillian and begins to peruse a relationship with her, although she is adamant that she will be "single forever." Sally too is challenged by love when Gary Hallet, an investigator from Arizona looking into Jimmy's disappearance, arrives at her doorstep drawn by a letter Sally sent to Gillian some months prior. With no where else to turn, Sally and Gillian call the Aunts for help in ridding themselves of Jimmy's ghostly influence.
On the whole, the beginning and ending of the book is somewhat similar to the movie. Although Jimmy's spiritual death is not as dramatic as it was in the movie and no one becomes possessed, however, this is in keeping with the magical realism genre. The middle part of the book focuses more on Sally's daughters as they grow from teenagers to young adults and draws a parallel between them and the generations of Owens women who have come before.
Thankfully the absolutely absurd scene from the movie where the witches jump off their roof with umbrellas is absent from the book. I loved the inclusion of actual spells that are so descriptive of the Aunt's old-world flavor of witchcraft. Although we do get some background information on the Aunts, I think it would be wonderful for Hoffman to write a prequel featuring these wonderful characters.
Practical Magic is a book that I will return to again and again. The author's descriptive prose and attention to detail brings a greater depth to the story. It is rich in imagination, ripe with characterization, and possessed of a wisdom that will not be lost on the attentive reader.
This was a good read, and after reading some other reviews, probably a good thing I don't remember much of the movie. I remember the overview, but not specifics from the movie. I remember I liked it, but didn't remember enough to compare the book to it. While I liked it, I prefer the two books that followed (there is now one more, but I haven't gotten to it yet). As mentioned in my previous reviews on this series, I decided to read this chronologically. Ms. Hoffman has been quoted as saying the series can be read either chronologically or in order of publication. I'm glad I did chronologically, better world building and explains a lot of why some things happen to the Owens sisters. Although, it is apparent that the author took some side stories in a different direction when she wrote the prequels, like which men the previous Owens sisters had fallen in love with.
Virtually all the magic done in this book concerns love or the consequences of love. The sisters live real lives in the modern world, and they struggle to make a life for themselves in the shadow of this power that they have turned their backs on. There's not a moment they state they don't or won't believe in their ancestral powers, but the reader never sees them being involved in learning the full potential of what could be. They know the minimum based on overhearing and eavesdropping on their aunts nighttime clientele.
In the end, this book is about family, power, consequences, and reconciliation. It is amusing and thoughtful in places and very different from other novels about magic and how it appears to solve all problems. Here, magic is a power that can be used or abused, and its practitioners are ordinary women with their own lives and wishes. In the end, this is a book about people and the choices they make and how one can either embrace love or turn away from it.
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The story itself is beautiful! There is magic in every sentence. I loved it.
The story revolves around Sally and her teenage children, and the issues that come along with being a single parent to teenage girls. Her wild sister Gillian turns up on the doorstep with a serious problem that she expects her older sister to help her with. The sisters try their best but eventually have to turn to their elderly witch aunts to help them. The only issue I have with the story, is that the aunts are kept on the sidelines until they're needed at the end, I'd have liked to have read more about them. The other thing is that Sally's love interest is introduced at the very end of the story and you read very little about her late husband. The story could have been so much more, i felt it was lacking substance. However, it is an easy and beautiful read and I did very much enjoy it!
For lovers of the film, it is obviously quite different and I can imagine if I’d read the book first I would probably have been annoyed about some of the cuts and changes they made but doing it this way round I can kind of understand some of them. The book takes place over a longer timescale and in more locations than the film so they obviously needed to condense things down and just covered the main plot.
I really enjoyed this. Hoffman’s writing flows really well and holds your interest, I was completely gripped. My only complaint would be that she maybe tried to cram too many plot threads into the story and it meant some areas weren’t explored as thoroughly as I would have liked and the ending seemed a little inconclusive for me.
I love the Owens sisters; the different ways they deal with the difficult upbringing that they had were very realistic and in keeping with each of their characters. Although it is a novel with witchcraft at its heart it wasn’t hugely dark or gothic but definitely helped with the Halloween feels so glad I read it at this time of year.
I’d definitely be open to reading more of Hoffman’s work.
Gillian and Sally are brought up by their elderly guardian aunts who perform magic and divination for the inhabitants of their small town, mainly the women. The aunts are odd and almost frightening and some of the magic has lasting effects, not always for the good of all. The sisters reject their way of life and flee their home with one travelling widely and the other marrying. The sisters have little contact with each other or with their aunts until one sister commits an act which means that she needs help and the two of them and their daughters come together to realise their legacy.
Virtually all the magic done in this book is by women and concerns love or the consequences of love. The sisters live real lives in a recognisable world and they struggle to make a life for themselves in the shadow of this power. In the end, this book is about family, power, consequences and reconciliation. It is amusing and thoughtful in places and very different from many other novels about magic where it seems to solve all problems. Here, magic is a power which can be used or abused and its practitioners are ordinary women with their own lives and wishes.
I found this book unusual, but interesting. The author has approached her subject differently from others who write about contemporary magic because. in the end, this is a book about people and the choices they make.
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!
The book was chosen by our book club as the monthly read so I went into it with no real preconceptions as I had not encountered the author before. The characters were developed at some length but the sisters involved seemed to be "branded" more by the reputations of their ancestors than on account of their own personal actions. The only ones apparently involved in the more practical applications of their "arts" were the aunts who lingered in the background of the story dispensing "cures" for the lovelorn or assisting vengeful members of their local community, and upon this reputation the sisters are given, either a wide berth, or an unusual ability to infatuate the men/boys of the neighbourhood. The only ensuing supernatural aspect was an unwanted miasma and an uncharacteritically energetic lilac bush in the garden after an unexpected enrichment of the soil.
As my star rating shows it was not an unrewarding read but, IMHO, just lacked a bit of development and imagination that would possibly have gained it a little more credibility in its use of the word 'magic'.