Halloween Reading: Practical Magic


This book review is technically cheating [i like to always review new releases] but if you can’t recommend an old spooky favourite during Halloween I don’t know when you can. Long Island based writer Alice Hoffman is one of my favorite authors, her books about love and relationships are simple, heartbreakingly poetic and full of dark magical realism.

One early New York Times review said her work had “the quality of folk tale—of amazing events calmly recounted.” Countless reviews since then speak of her skill in fusing the mysterious with the practical, the dark with the optimistic.

In one novel she describes a great flood that consumes an entire town: “Whole chimneys floated down Main Street, with some of them still issuing forth smoke.” in another the desctructiveness of love seen from the eyes of a pair of young sisters, “They could see how love might control you, from your head to your toes, not to mention every single part of you in between. A woman could want a man so much she might vomit in the kitchen sink or cry so fiercely blood would form in the corners of her eyes. She put her hand to her throat as though someone were strangling her, but really she was choking on all that love she thought she’d needed so badly.”

Her 1995 book Practical Magic was made into a Hollywood blockbuster with Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock about a family of witches living in a New England town. I have read many books of this genre being a fan of witches, spells and offbeat tales – but Hoffman’s novels are by far the richest of their kind.

The Owens women have been witches for several generations and have been blamed for all that has gone wrong in their Massachusetts town. “For more than two hundreds years,” the novel begins “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 his cheek, everyone believed that fate must have been twisted, at least a little, by those women over on Magnolia Street.”

Maria Owens, a young witch heartbroken and wrong-done by the townsfolk, cast a spell upon herself so that she would never again fall in love. The spell then becomes a curse that afflicts all the women of the Owens family.

In the present day orphaned sisters Sally and Gillian Owens, raised by their spinster aunts in a spooky old house, grow up observing desperate women buying love potions in the kitchen and vow never to commit their hearts to passion. Fate, of course, intervenes.

Steady, conscientious Sally marries, has two daughters and is widowed early due to the family curse. Impulsive, seductive Gillian goes through three divorces before she arrives at Sally’s house with a dead body in her car.

Hoffman’s novels are rooted in family, love and twists of mundane unexpectedness. A scrim of magic lies gently over this fictional world, in which lilacs bloom riotously in July, a lovesick boy’s elbows sizzle on a diner countertop and a toad expectorates a silver ring. This book is pure unadulterated pleasure for those seeking something that will make you feel like magic is always around the corner. Read on a Sunday in October curled up preferably on a window seat.

Check out Hoffman’s other superb books [i have read them all] here.

Author: Rohini Wahi

Rohini is a London based freelance journalist and trend forecaster for the design industries. She has worked for Elle Decoration, Living Etc, Houzz and Design Sponge amongst others.

She loves a period drama and keeps a tidy home. Launched in 2007 The Beat That My Heart Skipped focuses on home inspirations, design trends, lifestyle and food – coupled with an insight into Rohini’s work and home life – from key picks at trade shows to styled weekend soirees. To contact Rohini for queries, work for hire or just to say hi drop her a line at mail@rohiniwahi.com

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