Practicality and magic tossed around with a dash of sisters that couldn't be anymore different, eccentric aunts, a dusty manor, an array of black cats, and tantalizing attractions of the opposite sex and you'll be in for a little dark fable if not entertainment.
When the beautiful and precocious sisters, Gillian and Sally, are orphaned at a young age, they are taken to a small town in Massachusetts to be raised by their aunts, who happen to dwell in the darkest, eeriest house in town. As they become more aware of their aunt's mysterious and sometimes frightening powers, and their own powers begin to surface, the sisters grow determined to escape their strange upbringing by blending into "normal" society.
But both find that they cannot elude their magic-filled past. And when trouble strikes, in the form of a menacing backyard ghost, the sisters must not only reunite three generations of Owens women but embrace their magic as a gift. (*)
Alice Hoffman writes with a sinister and moody atmosphere which as you read the pages feels like something unpredictable is going to happen like a distant storm brewing slowly almost above your house. The aunts are too odd and too feared for comfort, the way they scatter their wisdom quotes like a forbidding nail that will seal your fate (which could turn out nasty). As the old saying goes, wishes upon magic has its consequences, and it couldn't be more true on this book.
The inner workings of the characters' (practical, to say the least) minds are much narrated while some back stories are revealed slowly to the readers (more to give light to their personalities). The rest are all like an embellished world; unnatural storms, heady scents of lilacs, foreboding shadows of the moon, zealous attractions, etc. The lyrical prose are somewhat intoxicating.
In 1998, a film came out based on this with the same title fronted by Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock as the Owens sisters. While the book has a pervading gloominess, the film is darkly funny and a warm delight (yes, I'm talking about getting drunk over margaritas and dancing in the kitchen).
It explored the idea of the sisters (mostly Sally) remaining in the Owens house (I adore the house!) with its beatific views of the sea, sunny greenhouse, winding staircase and gardens. We see how the curse of their dreaded reputation hover in their interactions with fellow neighbors in their little town. Sometimes having a little power could come in handy if only just to spite.
The film is outright enchanting and would appeal to most who's looking for some fun and fantasy. There is more hilarious moments and good time going on. Even the darker scenes seemed too funny. And the old aunts are witch-y cool you just can't help but love them.
I am actually torn with this (for always, the book version is preferred) for the film was one of my favorite go-see films and I read the book only later. I feel I must read it again and banish thoughts of the movie to give it its own entity. But one thing stays the same; I think only women will get this book/film and I'd love to grow up in an old mansion full of secrets and mystery and magic where neighbors quicken their steps when they pass by it.
Book Title: Practical Magic
Author: Alice Hoffman
Genre: Fantasy, Magic Realism, Women's Fiction
Published: 2003 Paperback
Publisher: Berkley Trade
Rating: ♨♨♨ and a half (3 1/2 cups - A little dark fantasy in the modern world is just what we need sometimes. Full of each characters' musings and some supernatural symbolism, it is a good book to read on rainy days.)
Film Title: Practical Magic
Director: Griffin Dune
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock, Aidan Quinn, Stockard Channing, Dianne Wiest
Release Date: 1998
Rating: ♨♨♨♨ (4 cups - Silly fun, charming and spooky. I like the closeness of the Owens sisters despite their differences and I think it resonated well in the film, especially the family bonding.)