Thursday, January 27, 2022

What I Read: Practical Magic Series

I'm drawn to many authors who write in the "magical realism" style -- mixing the supernatural and modern worlds.

Alice Hoffman is one of my all-time favorites, and Practical Magic is the book that got me hooked. I first read it after seeing the movie. The book is quite different but had me "spellbound" many years ago when I first picked it up, and I've re-read it many times since.

Over the past few years, Hoffman has written two prequels and a sequel to the original book, and I've been "saving" them for a treat when I could really curl up on the sofa and get lost in a book or two for days (they are pretty quick reading).

So with a combination of cold weather, a long weekend, and once-again rising covid numbers that made staying home seem like a good idea, I figured January would be a good time to dig in, and decided to read all four chronologically, revisiting my old favorite in the middle.

I LOVED the chance to savor the beautiful writing. Her prose style truly is magical to me. Each book on its own, was lovely and I really enjoyed them. But something odd happened... when read as a continuum, there were inconsistencies in the storytelling that really bothered me. 

Backstories, facts and even personalities presented in Practical Magic -- the first novel written, but the third chronologically -- were changed or ignored in the new prequel and sequel novels. There were a lot of little things that for someone as familiar with the original novel as I am that really jumped at out me. If you're going to write a series of connected novels, this seems really sloppy and like something a good editor should have pointed out.

And while not technically an "error", the timeline also bothered me. The original novel was published in 1995 and seemed to have a contemporary setting, with the two main characters aged 36 and 37. Nothing in the book was specifically tied to any current or historical events, and story would work in any time, but that's where my mind "set" those characters. 

Magic Lessons, the first prequel novel, takes place in the 1600s and tells the story of the original Owens witches, so the timeline wasn't an issue.  But the second book, The Rules of Magic, takes place in the 1960s and 70s, with close references to events of the time, such as the Monterey Pop Festival and the Vietnam War drafts. Based on that, and the ages of the characters, that would now place the events of Practical Magic much later - in 2032 or thereabouts, and the Book of Magic a few years later. 

I found it hard to adjust my thinking on that one, and felt like the story would have seemed more consistent without an extra generation that really didn't play a big role (it would have made more sense to me for the April and Regina characters combined). But no fault to Hoffman, she didn't really place Practical Magic within the context of a particular time, so that's just in my head.


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