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Herbalism in Fiction

Herbalism in Fiction: Practical Magic

If you read my previous Herbalism in Fiction post, you know I have very specific taste in favorite books, namely varying types of fiction featuring herbalism and absorbing, immersive imagery and description. The next book I’m going to touch on is a new favorite of mine, but by no means new: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman.

To preface: I’ve heard excellent things about the film; though I haven’t seen it yet, and am very excited to, I’ve heard the overall tone of the film and book diverge a bit. I have a feeling it’s one of those cases where they are separate pieces of fiction that stand up in their own ways.

The book is a complex and magical tapestry woven with strands of sisterhood, womanhood, family ties and legacies, love and loss, the magical and the mundane, uniqueness and self-acceptance. The story begins with two little orphaned sisters, Sally and Gillian Owens, who go to live with their elderly witch aunts in the family’s curious, mysterious old home in Massachusetts. As the girls grow up and go their separate ways, forging paths for themselves in life, they find themselves ultimately needing that family magic in their lives despite their efforts to grow away from it.

Practical Magic is a mixture of literary fiction and magical realism, with heartwarming notes, dark and spooky threads, cozy and immersive imagery, painful beauty, and just the right bits of levity thrown in the mix. It is really a unique work of literature that will really pull at your heartstrings and ignite your imagination if you’ll let it!

As far as this book’s herbalism connection, it is an inextricable part of the dense palette of the story. Lush, vivid descriptions of the aunts’ herb garden, frequent recurrences of lavender and rosemary, mention of concoctions and poisons, and THAT lilac bush (when you read it, you’ll know!) put this book squarely on my list. And the aunts’ house with its dark corners, chandeliers, big window seat, mysterious portrait, and self-dusting woodwork (yes, please!) add just the hygge element I’m always searching for in books, too.

I am so glad I finally read this book! Not only does it tick all my boxes, but the story itself is both deep and thought-provoking while also lovely and sweet, ultimately. And there are a few other books about the renowned Owens women in publication or to come, which promises more books for this list!

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