[REVIEW] Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Hi, lovelies! 🌌 A few weeks ago I finished reading Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. I have to admit, it’s been a long time since I’ve been conflicted by a book, so many mixed feelings!

I’ve owned this book for more than 2 years – I think – and this October I had to pick it up because based on the movie it gave me the Halloween vibes. So, because I’ve watched the movie a thousand times and love it I had high expectations. Be prepared for a long review with spoilers from the movie and the book.

General information I gathered about the book:

  • This book is written in a very peculiar way, one of the things that caught my attention is that there aren’t as many dialogues in the entire book (286 pages) as you would think, and when they do, they are some flashbacks, inner thoughts or sparse conversations.
  • There are no chapter numbers/letters, and instead of chapters, the book is cut into sections and the divisions within these sections are minimal.
  • The paragraphs are very long, while the language is kept simple and almost whimsical – the paragraph division is very tiring for the eyes.
  • There are a lot of POV, while they are minimal in description and cameos, the way the author includes them is seamlessly and it always provides something about the main characters through the eyes of these people.
  • We don’t get to know the names of 2 of the main characters until almost the very end of the book.
  • The movie is I pitch as a romance and with witches and with power behind the feeling of love and magic, but the plot in the book is more complex than just love and magic. First, the love section of it is more of a lesson during the first part of the book: desire something so bad that when you get it, you will learn your lesson. Second, there is no true magic as in the one you are thinking about, is more about the rumors and how witches are perceived from the Old World. There are charms, superstition, doves being used for love spells, but not to a degree we see in the ‘witches’ portrayed in movies.

Part One: Superstition

  • This is from when the girls are four years old to around 30-35 years old.
  • Part one introduces our main characters: Sally and Gillian, two sister orphans who lose their parents and go to live in a small town with their aunts.
  • Sally as we learned throughout the first part of the book is quiet, unassuming, smart, the oldest sister who enjoys doing house chores and cooking healthy food that no one likes. She doesn’t have friends and is bullied in school by her classmates and ignored by her teachers.
  • Gillian is happier (on the outside, we later learn some things from her that are equally sad), she is the prettiest and is not afraid of voicing her opinion. Gillian is messy, enjoys sweets, and sleeps at noon.
  • Sally and Gillian have a strong bond, while Sally doesn’t understand her sister, she protects Gillians and tries to always be there for her.
  • At school, both sisters are equally feared: no one will seat close to them, they are avoided in the hallways, no one will touch anything they touch, and children actually shrink whenever the sisters look at them.
  • In part one we see more of Sally at school: how children do mean things to her, how they kill a mouse and leave it on her desk, how they try to burn a cat’s tail after her cats follow Sally to school. It is after this incident that Sally closes herself and grows up quieter, somber, and sad.

From that day on, Sally thought less of herself. She did not ask the aunts for special favors, or even request those small rewards she deserved. Sally could not have had a more intractable and uncompromising judge; she had found herself lacking, in compassion and fortitude, and the punishment was self-denial, from that moment on.

Page 11.
  • Part one also includes one thing that throughout the book, marks these girls: love and the desire of someone who wishes something so much that it eats them inside. There is a power behind this scene that marks even me as a reader, that power of wanting, desiring so bad and so strongly that you’re blind to anything else, and while you get what you want the ending is not a happily ever after.
  • Is during part one we see both of them growing up. Sally closing herself as she grows up and Gillian willing to break the walls and be free. Gillian is described as a heartbreaker, as a girl so beautiful boys would just fall over each other for her, as someone lovely even when she cuts all her hair. Gillian marries and gets a divorce at eighteen and who moves around the country falling in love with the wrong guy and marrying all over again.
  • Here we find how the aunts make love spells, Gillian likes to be a free spirit, Sally meeting Michael her husband, and falling in love for the first time.
  • Sally marries and has two girls, she starts to fit with the town’s people thanks to her husband who is lovely and brings happiness to the aunt’s house. She also loses her husband when he’s killed in an accident. After his death she spends one year away from everyone, hiding in her bedroom and ignoring even her daughters. She doesn’t talk, doesn’t know what to do after her husband dies, and finally, is about her taking control and leaving the town who still sees them as witches and bad luck and leaving for New York.

Part Two: Premonitions

  • In part two we are introduced to Sally now living in New York and working in the school her daughters go to. She has two girls: Antonia who is sixteen years old and is so like Gillian that is painful and Kylie who is twelve and doesn’t have a good relationship with Antonia.
  • Antonia starts as an unlikable character who makes fun of her sister, who is incredibly beautiful and popular, who doesn’t look at all like Kylie who is too tall for her age and skinny.
  • Sally grows to be equally quiet, competent, reliable, and still beautiful. She hasn’t fallen in love again after her husband and keeps to herself. But, we see here a disconnection between Sally and her daughters. Sally forced her daughters to leave the aunts behind – not even realizing that it was the aunts who raised them during that year she didn’t even leave her bedroom – her daughters love their aunts and while they do love their mother they also see a martyr who insists on no meat on the table, who pushes them to be their best, who doesn’t truly connect emotionally.
  • We are introduced again to Gillian, who for the past eighteen years has been away and has only see her sister three times. Gillian who comes with a body on her car from a boyfriend she killed – let me tell you, Sally is not amused.
  • Sally stills loves Gillian but she no longer tries to understand her. They have been a distance between them, Gillian besides being a free spirit is careless – careless enough to bring a body to her sister who has two daughters to help her bury the body.
  • Gillian doesn’t have a mean bone in her body but during part two we see a childish part in her that is almost stupid, negligent, and vapid. She still has boys after her, she doesn’t have a place to fit, thinks she will just arrive, fit in for a couple of weeks and get some money to move on.
  • Gillian gets along with Kylie but not with Antonia because they are too similar. Kylie sees in Gillian a heroine who is beautiful and fun, so unlike her mother. Gillian is so blind she doesn’t see how she is imposing on her sister, destroying the small relationship she has with her daughters – so much that she dyes Kylie’s hair when she turns thirteen without asking Sally – knowing Sally would never accept this. Gillian without knowing – because she doesn’t pay enough attention in her little world – goes over Sally’s authority and does things she doesn’t need expecting Sally to be happy. Like I said, Gillian is not a mean or nasty character, she’s just very airhead.
  • Part two introduces a family dynamic that is tense, unlikable, unreliable, and where Sally is so centered in some ideals (funny, just like Gillian) that she doesn’t bend, not even for her daughters.

Part Three: Clairvoyance

If a woman is in trouble, she should always wear blue for protection.

Page 117
  • Is in part three where we start seeing some of that superstition and witches-ness coming into play: and the protagonist is the dead body buried in Sally’s garden.
  • Here we see things missing, the family misplacing items, rotten food, and just bad luck overall which is where the witch part of the book truly comes into play.
  • We are also introduced to Ben Frye who falls in love with Gillian. This is when we start seeing a different side of Gillian – when Ben comes into play. Ben is kindhearted, a Biology teacher, Sally’s co-worker, he’s trustworthy, and does magic shows for the children at the hospital every Saturday. He’s also incredibly handsome, nerdy, a bit obtuse sometimes, and every woman lusts after him without him realizing.

“Go away,” she tells Ben whenever he calls. She doesn’t think about the way he looks, or about the fell of the calluses on his fingers, the ones caused by practicing knots for his magic act nearly every day. “Find someone who will make you happy.”

But that’s not what Ben wants. He wants her. He phones and phone, until they all assume he’s the one calling each and every time.

Page 122.
  • Gillian and Ben’s relationship is the center of this section. From how he wants her so bad he doesn’t care that he looks like a fool. He wants Gillian, can’t imagine her being unhappy and Gillian is on the fence, she pushes him away and she cries in silence because she doesn’t think she is worth it, she doesn’t think she deserves his devotion.

If Gillian were speaking to her sister, or, more correctly, if Sally were speaking to her, Gillian would draw her over the window to get a look. Isn’t he beautiful? That’s what she would have said if she and Sally had been talking. I wish I deserved him, she would have whispered into her sister’s ear.

Page 125
  • But aside from the romance, like I mentioned, we are introduced to the dark side. The man buried in Sally’s garden under the lilacs is making things worse for the sisters. He’s messing with their mind and energy, causing missing things, the silence between them, and headaches that won’t go away.
  • Clairvoyance is a mixture of things:
    • Gillian starts as a reckless, childish, silly, pitiful character who oversteps the boundaries set by her sister. Gillian pushes Ben away wanting to be with him and who finally accepts him.
    • Ben’s fascination with Gillian at the beginning was irking – he has been obsessed with her since he first saw her, sees more in her eyes than what she lets on, and is like a love spell has been cast upon him.
    • Kylie starts to see the dead man -Jimmy- and see the problems he causes to her family.
    • Antonia’s personality has a 180, she starts dressing down, accept things don’t always go her way, and falls in love. She rekindles her sisterhood with Kylie and protects her.
    • As mentioned above, Gillian starts as someone and slowly we see character development: she is childish, lost, alone, beautiful, un-responsible but then she becomes more centered and starts seeing life with purpose.
    • Sally starts seeing her disconnection with her daughters and how Kylie connects with Gillian more than her own mother. She is afraid of being replaced, of eventually, not being needed
    • And finally, we see Kylie from the ugly ducking to the beautiful swan. To her friendship with Gideon, her best friend, to realizing her feelings for him, to her connection with her sister again.

Part Four: Levitation

  • This is the last section of the book where we are introduced to another character Gary Hallet, who works for the attorney general’s office and who is looking for Jimmy.
  • The first time Sally and Gary meet is clumsy, adorable and let’s say Garry is a cinnamon roll. He’s so precious, he cries over the taste of coffee because it reminds him of his grandpa.
  • In this section there are some revelations:
    • We finally learn the aunts’ names who are called back to get rid of Jimmy’s body.
    • We see Sally almost spellbound to Gary and vice versa. How she can’t lie to him, not knowing why. We see the sexual tension between them so instant that is surprising.
    • The aunts rekindle with Gillian, who they haven’t seen for years. We see Gillian as a little girl who never fit in and who has disappointed her aunts all her life.
    • We learn more about the aunts and their past – how they fell in love and how those boys died, how they stayed alone for the rest of their lives.
    • But mostly, I wished with all my heart for more of Sally and Gary together, the ending is promising, he comes back to her but is so small, such a small part that I wanted more.

Movie vs. books – the differences and similitudes.

  • The sister’s personalities are the same in the book and in the movie, but while in the book we see character development in Gillian – in the movie she is as vapid as growing up and she is as an adult.
  • The romance in the movie is focused on Sally, her years with Michael, her love for him, and then her romance with Gary and their happy ending. Unlike the book where we see more of Gillian and Ben and very little of Sally’s love for Gary.
  • In the movie Sally never leaves the town, she is not accepted until the very end but she doesn’t leave. She opens a store and tries to fit in quietly without getting into anyone’s life.
  • In the movie Sally’s daughters are young, the oldest Antonia being around maybe 11 or 12. In the movie, Antonia is the one with the magic touch, unlike in the book where is Kylie.
  • In the book, their childhood and adolescence are described more, in the movie are rushed to their 30s.
  • In the movie Gillian’s ex Jimmy is the antagonist – to the point, he possesses her, in the book he is just a ghost that only Kylie can see and whose body turns into ashes by the aunt’s ‘potion’.
  • But the main difference: in the movie the Owens women can’t fall in love because their husband will die young – part of a curse by their ancestor Maria who was abandoned by her loved one and this is the main reason people are afraid of them – for being so unlucky. As opposed to the book where we don’t see this curse.
Let me apologize for the long review/rant/comparison/everything in between. I did enjoy the book, I think it brought different aspects and was a bit jarring to see how different it was from the movie but that's to be expected, it happens all the time.
ps. this was written and checked for errors only once, I will re-check again soon, sorry for any grammar mistakes ><



3 responses to “[REVIEW] Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman”

  1. […] Practical Magic (Practical Magic #1) by Alice Hoffman (f/m, animal abuse, bullying): Full review here. […]


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