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29th March
2011
written by Steph

Looking at my reading log, I realized that I finished Practical Magic back on February 10. Normally I try to write reviews for books within a week of finishing them, but obviously that didn’t happen with this one. While I was reading PM, I thought it was a fine read and when I finished it, I concluded that I liked it well enough. So why is it that I find myself struggling so hard to write anything about it? I hate when I end up feeling apathetic about a book, because I can barely muster up the energy to talk about it, which is really no fun for anyone. Basically, I had never read an Alice Hoffman novel before so I didn’t really know what to expect going into this one. I think I had seen the movie version ages ago, but I remembered pretty much nothing about that experience. Also, after finishing the book, I did watch the movie trailer and it seems like the film takes considerable liberties and has a different focus than the book. Essentially the movie makes it seem like the book is about these powerful witch sisters who are cursed in the sense that any man who falls in love with them is destined to die… this is very much not how things go in the book. There are two deaths, one tied to each sister, but neither of these really has a direct link to either sister… in fact, the first death is important in the sense that it strikes home the fact that death comes when it will and there’s nothing we can do to stop it when it makes up its mind to claim someone we love. There’s also the issue of magic, which is not really very overt in the book. I actually liked that the magic in the book was more akin to magical realism, in the sense that magical and eerie things happened, but no one was really going about casting spells or anything like that. Ok, not entirely true, there are some charms and potions brewed, but the magic that this evoked was more one of being in tune with nature and harnessing the power of the earth. I liked that there was something special about the two sisters, and yet neither of them was really a witch in the traditional sense. They had an allure, but any power they had was more symbolic of their inner character and personal strength. That said, I didn’t necessarily fully understand the two sisters in terms of their motivations and the ways they chose to live their lives, and there was a lot about them that seemed to rely on stereotypes and caricature. The story itself felt rather aimless, like I was drifting through a dream, for the first half or so, but this didn’t really bug me given the fantastical vibe to the entire thing. The writing was fine, if perhaps a bit simplistic at times. If someone had told me this was Hoffman's first novel, I wouldn't have been surprised, but apparently it's not her first book, so make of that what you will. I guess really this was a novel about family and falling in love and the individual power we each carry. Put that way, it all sounds rather flaccid, but at the time, it was a charming little read. It’s certainly not one of those books that is going to stay with me forever, but at the time, it was exactly what I wanted to be reading. It wasn’t challenging, and it was kind of like chick lit with a twist. Despite some dark moments, the book seemed light and fluffy… like a little gray raincloud, I guess. I would be open to reading more Alice Hoffman in the future, though I admit, I’m not racing out to do so any time soon. And with this rather tepid, lackluster review, I apologize and hope that with this out of the way I’ve kicked my blogging slump in the pants and can get back to talking about books with some kind of passion. [I admit that probably my favorite thing about this book has nothing to do with this book whatsoever but instead has to do with the designation Amanda over at The Zen Leaf gave it. She doesn’t appear to have a review of it up on her site, but she placed it on a GoodReads bookshelf that she called “the-worst” and that just really makes me snicker every time I think of it. I didn’t think this book was the worst thing I’ve ever read, but I’d love to know why Amanda virtually shelved it there!] Rating: 3 out of 5

16 Comments

  1. 03/29/2011

    Thanks for reminding me of this one. I read it years and years ago and remember really enjoying it. I liked the film too. I think that sometimes an unchallenging read is just right. We can’t be challenged all the time – too exhausting.

  2. 03/29/2011

    LOL. I saw my name on here and said “wait – what did I say about this book? I don’t remember ever mentioning it on my blog!” Cracked me up when I saw it was related to Goodreads.

    I read Practical Magic back in 1999 in the week before I went to France. The entry in my journal that I kept for my study abroad says, “I’m sitting here reading Practical Magic so I won’t have to see the movie.” The movie looked sort of interesting but also sort of stupid, and I took advantage of a friend’s library while I waited to go to France to read the book instead. At the time, I was still convinced that there weren’t any books out there that I liked. I was trying every genre and author I could, from Anna Quinlin to Danielle Steele. I disliked all of them. It wasn’t until 2001 that I started reading classics for pleasure and discovered that there WERE books I liked.

    I remember next to nothing about Practical Magic, only that it seemed stupid and badly written and that I hated every word of it. I try to base my Goodreads ratings and thoughts on my feelings at the time. I’ve often thought about going back to reread this one because I wonder if, at 32, I might feel differently than I did as a cynical 20-year-old who had never even heard of magical realism. Ironically, I can actually see myself enjoying the book now, if it isn’t badly written. I’ve never read anything else by Hoffman, so I have no point of comparison.

  3. 03/29/2011

    I haven’t read Alice Hoffman, and I’m not any more convinced now that I want to 🙂 I hate those “meh” books…they’re so hard to write about, especially if you didn’t actually hate the book but can’t think of many nice things to say about it.

  4. 03/29/2011

    I classify Alice Hoffman in the same category as Sarah Addison Allen: sweet, simple magical realism for a rainy Sunday afternoon. They’re cute books, but not a lot of fiber in there. Comfort reading.

  5. 03/29/2011

    I wasn’t crazy about this book either – I didn’t dislike it, but it didn’t really stay with me. Her novel The Ice Queen is something else altogether though.

  6. 03/30/2011

    @ Joanne: Absolutely. When I picked this up, I remember that I had discarded a bunch of other options because they didn’t feel right, and this was the first book after several days of trying that I just clicked with. I think the fact that I didn’t have to struggle to read it definitely helped.
     
    @ Amanda: Thanks for sharing the story! It’s so crazy for me to think of you as a non-reader, though I did know you had a tortured reading past! I don’t know that you would actually love this one today, but I suppose it would be interesting for you to revisit some of those books from your pre-reading life to see how you respond to them now!
     
    @ Erin: Generally speaking, I think I’m pretty good at avoiding meh books, but the longer I sat on this one, the more “meh” it became. And they totally are the hardest ones to write about!
     
    @ Alex: I think your description of Hoffman is exactly right!
     
    @ Nymeth: Interesting and good to know! Perhaps if I try Hoffman again, I will have to pick up The Ice Queen!

  7. 03/29/2011

    Gosh, I was reading your review and realized that I saw this film years ago! The book doesn’t sound like one I have to rush out to read but I’ve heard good things about Hoffman so I guess I will definitely give her work a try in the future.

  8. 03/30/2011

    I read an Alice Hoffman book a very long time ago called Here on Earth, and really disliked it a lot. I can’t remember what it was about, or why I had the feelings that I did, but I do remember the book being rambly and not focused enough to suit me. After having read that one, I made a decision to not read any further works from her, and from reading this review, it sounds like I might have made the right choice. It’s not that this book sounds all that bad, but I just don’t have time or energy to read things that I don’t think I am going to be excited about. Thanks for your honesty and candor in this review. It is much appreciated!

  9. 03/30/2011

    @ Kathleen: I think it makes sense that people would try this one because a movie was made out of it (well, kind of, since the movie doesn’t really seem to resemble the book), but I’m thinking that Hoffman probably has some better books out there. Perhaps we both need to try The Ice Queen per Nymeth’s suggestion!
     
    @ zibilee: It actually sounds like Here on Earth is really similar to this one in terms of the rambling elements… I wonder if that’s just Hoffman’s style or if these were books from her earlier days as an author and she has since developed more narrative control?

  10. Eva
    03/30/2011

    I tried reading this in high school, since I loved the movie, and I didn’t like it at all. It took me years to give Alice Hoffman another chance, but when I did, I found I really enjoyed Blackbird House! I have yet to read anything else by her though.

  11. 04/04/2011

    One of my best friends really loved Here on Earth so she lent me the book. Ugh. I hated it. Primarily because it felt like she stole the Wuthering Heights story and murdered it. It felt forced, too. I’m passionate about my love for W.H. so that probably coloured my opinion of Hoffman which means I’m probably not the best person to ask about her books. I’ve never read anything else by her since. Have no desire to either. Unless someone convinces me really well otherwise.

  12. 04/05/2011

    @ Eva: Ok, so maybe this just isn’t one of Hoffman’s best novels? My library has a bunch of her other titles available as ebooks so I will have to try one of them.
     
    @ kiss a cloud: Ha! Isn’t it the worst when friends lend you books that are just awful? I’ve had one friend who just couldn’t understand where our reading tastes overlapped and was always suggesting books to me that I found rather painful… 😉

  13. 04/06/2011

    I’ve been spotting her books at the store–all the time. I never muster up conviction to take even one home with me. I wonder why? And certainly this review will not help the situation. Is this really chick lit? Are all her books chick lit?

  14. 04/08/2011

    @ Matt: It’s not 100% chick lit – certainly more literary – but this book definitely had a chick lit vibe to it. If you do pick up something by Hoffman, I really suggest you start elsewhere…

  15. 04/12/2011

    I feel blah about this book too. It’s one of those pleasant okey-dokey books, but it was a wee bit too girly for my taste.

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