Practical Magic (Practical Magic #1) by Alice Hoffman: Book and Movie Review

The prequel to Practical Magic, Magic Lessons, was just released, and it sounded really interesting. I’d seen the movie of Practical Magic years ago and figured it was time to read the book and revisit the movie.

From the publisher: “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…”

The book Practical Magic, and the movie Practical Magic, have the same basic premise, but give off different vibes. The movie is more light-hearted, even though some pretty heavy stuff happens. You could call it a romantic comedy with a fantasy element. The book doesn’t dwell on romance; it’s just part of the overall story.

Sally and Gillian are struggling to find their way in life. They have been raised by their aunts, who are rather peculiar to the townsfolk. There’s talk of witchcraft and curses. The girls are teased mercilessly. Sally just wants to be normal. Gillian just wants to get the heck away from the aunts.

In a way, they do. Sally marries and has two girls. But her husband dies, and Sally blames the aunts’ spells for the death. She moves away from them, hoping to leave behind all the whispers and odd looks and accusations of witchcraft. And she succeeds for a while, until Gillian calls her.

Gillian has always been the ‘wild child’, bucking against the aunt’s “weirdness” and promising when she grew up she’s never be caught dead east of the Mississippi. Until she gets involved with a loser named Jimmy. She knows she’s in over her head. She heads home to ask Sally for help. That’s when the trouble really starts.

That’s about the only parts of the book and the movie that gibe. There are a lot of differences, while the movie still captures the spirit of the book. Jimmy dies in both versions, and the ever-growing lilacs in the book are changed to an arbor of roses in the movie. The appearance of Gary happens in both book and movie version. The major change in the book to movie is that in the movie, Sally and Gillian aren’t afraid from using their powers or casting spells, which I thought made the movie a lot more fun. In the book version of Practical Magic, it felt like the sisters were always running from who they were inside, and all these random things just sort of happened to them. I can’t decide which I like more, the movie or the book. The book is darker but more fleshed out, obviously. The movie is lighter, but some nuances get lost in translation.

I’m still not sure I like Alice Hoffman’s writing style of writing in parts instead of chapters (it made it hard to find breaks in my audio listening of the book), and sometimes the point of view changed for no good reason, but found she has a unique way with words that still compelled me to want to continue on. I’m much more interested in the start of the Owens family, and can’t wait to read Magic Lessons. My review of that book is coming up later this week!

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