The Owens sisters confront the challenges of life and love in this bewitching novel from New York Times bestselling author Alice Hoffman.
For more than two hundred years, the Owens women have been blamed for everything that has gone wrong in their Massachusetts town. Gillian and Sally have endured that fate as well: as children, the sisters were forever outsiders, taunted, talked about, pointed at. Their elderly aunts almost seemed to encourage the whispers of witchery, with their musty house and their exotic concoctions and their crowd of black cats. But all Gillian and Sally wanted was to escape.
One will do so by marrying, the other by running away. But the bonds they share will bring them back—almost as if by magic…
At the time of writing this review Goodreads have rated this as 3.80 out of 5
For more than two hundred years, the Owens women have been blamed for everything that has gone wrong in town. If a damp spring arrived, if cows in the pasture gave milk that was runny with blood, if a colt died of colic or a baby was born with a red birthmark stamped onto its cheek, everyone believed that fate must have been twisted, at least a little, by those women over on Magnolia Street.
If you are a regular follower of my blog you’ll know that I like certain things. You’ll know that I like these certain things because I do the book blog equivalent of grabbing pots and pans and banging on about it.
Two of those things are; witches and stories about sister relationships. It’s even better if those sisters are witches. Or, if you prefer the other way around, that those witches are sisters.
In Practical Magic I am appeased threefold with not one, not two but three pairs of sisters spread out over three generations. We like the number three. It’s very witchy.
We have the Aunts, Sally and Gillian and Sally’s two teenage daughters; Antonia and Kylie.
I was forewarned that the book is nothing like the movie and I have mentioned this before when I have mentioned Practical Magic. It isn’t. Some of the core elements still exist such as the family dynamic and the plot involving Gillian’s nasty boyfriend (but even that doesn’t follow through exactly) but much of it differs.
One of the big changes was the setting. In the movie this takes place in the Aunt’s house on Magnolia Street and honestly for me, that house is #housegoals. This website has more pictures of the interior.
In the book, the story takes place in Sally’s modest three bed house because the book story is about a witch in suburbia who tries desperately to shake the reputation that she and her family have. Sure, you can shake the reputation and bury your past but as Sally realises, and in more ways than one, you can’t bury things forever.
This isn’t a story about active witchcraft but passive witchcraft. I’ll try my best to explain what I mean. The Aunt’s are active witches and though the townspeople aren’t exactly warm to them they sure don’t mind going to them when they need something. Sally and Gillian are not ‘active’ with their witchcraft but still hold a magical presence and, in Gillian’s case, are rather ‘bewitching’ to members of the opposite sex.
Sally’s daughters are coming into their own magical abilities and there is a link between entering womanhood (Kylie turns 13) and the discovery of sexuality and magic. There are some nasty instances of sexism towards the characters, even the youngest (poor Kylie) which shows that however dangerous people think women are, the real danger can be to women. Just for being women.
This is a very female-centric book and I like it. It’s written by a woman and I would say it’s written for women. That’s not to say a male audience wouldn’t enjoy this but they are not the targeted demographic. The book contains a lot of female characters (which is common with Alice Hoffman books) and focuses on the relationships that women have with each other (again, common with Alice Hoffman).
The complexities of sister relationships are at the forefront here, showing how you can hate and love simultaneously. Sally and Gillian (and to an extent Antonia and Kylie) can say harsh, awful things to each other than only siblings seem to say but they also love each other unconditionally.
The characters could easily be one dimensional but they’re not. Gillian is more than The Vamp, she is a deeply wounded fragile woman who believes she deserves all she’s got (she doesn’t, no one does) and Sally is a lonely, widowed single mother who is relentlessly practical but there is a determined, authoritative side to her as well a romantically wistful one.
Antonia is both the bitchy big sister bully but has moments of crushing insecurity as she finds her place in the world and Kylie, the empath, has the strongest ties to magic but is exploring what it means to be on the cusp of womanhood and really all she wants to do is bake cakes.
If you want an overabundance of plot and magic than no – you won’t find it here in this character driven story. There is magic present though, just because the Owen’s family really can’t help but attract magic and trouble.
This is not a hardcore witch fantasy book but if you want a take on modern, gentle witchcraft and an exploration of relationships (both romantic and familial) than this is for you!
This is up there as one of my favourite Alice Hoffman’s!