Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Review: Practical Magic, by Alice Hoffman

A magical read (puns are always intended!) about two sisters, Sally and Gillian Owens, and how their family heritage of witchcraft affects their lives and their relationships.  Alice Hoffman skilfully weaves magic into everyday life, making it seem like a natural part of their lives- which makes, sense, as it was a sizeable portion of the Owens sisters' upbringing. Hoffman's use of the present tense is done beautifully, making a difficult technique seem effortless.

I love that the Owen's women's emotions provoke a physical, external response. Instead of Gillian being so in love that she might fly or some other cliche, she is so in love that all of the butter in the house melts, even when it is kept in the fridge. Not only does this demonstrate all of the family's power without constantly flaunting charms, potions and spells, but its also a novel way to demonstrate the intensity of their emotions.

Having watched the film first (Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman and Stockard Channing- definitely worth a watch!), I was kind of expecting a different plot; the film was inspired by the book, so there are lots of differences between the book and film. But I think that this was for the best, as they then have different strengths (although who-ever did the editing for the film needed to be fired- so so many continuity errors, but I love it anyway.). The full book would be too long and complicated for a film, but the film gave the Aunts a much larger role throughout the film than was given to them in the book, and the Aunts as portrayed by Stockard Channing and Diane Wiest are just fantastic. So, although the film and book are very different, I enjoyed them both, lots, separately. But this is a book review, not a film review...
The amazing house from the film- suitably witchy, I think!

So, yes, it is beautifully written, and it covers such a long period of the characters' lives that it really feels like a character driven story, even though there are certain events that help the story develop. This is well done too, as there's no feeling that this thing or situation must happen so that they can be doing this thing next, just because the author wants it to happen type of writing, which bugs me lots! I like too that you get to see Sally's daughters grow up and that they also become primary characters in their own right. Hoffman has got female sibling dynamics encapsulated perfectly in the book, which each different pair of sisters and each different relationship being different but realistic, with lots of differences, similarities and competitiveness between all of the family, throughout the book. All of these little differences help prevent the relationships from descending into stale repetitive stereotypes.

Finally, I've read somewhere (deep within the book reviews on goodreads.com) some reviews condemning the book for encouraging a lack of morals, poor behaviour and bad habits, as well as teaching bad parenting habits, without showing any concept of responsibility etc. I find this view totally ridiculous. The Aunts are fantastic characters and I'm glad that their characters were highlighted within the movie. The book in no way endorses them as ideal guardians and the ways in which the Owens sisters are brought up is shown to be unconventional, and is shown as a flawed method, through the reactions of both Gillian and Sally. They are not meant to be perfect women, or perfect guardians, and ultimately the dynamic between them and Gillian and Sally does change, showing that they aren't two dimensional prop characters. Boo for unrealistic expectations. Yay for magic and silliness, chocolate for breakfast and no set bedtimes.

9.5 stars
(Plus, I totally followed the books advice, and now put pepper on my mashed potatoes... yum!)

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