The Rules of Magic, by Alice Hoffman
"Unable are the Loved to die, for Love is Immortality. - Emily Dickinson
It was clear from the very beginning I was going to love The Rules of Magic. It was about witches, after all, and there is no literary subject that is more dear to me. While this book was spellbinding, I also found it surprising, as the pace was gentle and tame, in no great rush to arrive at an end destination because it is of course the journey that matters. This character study into a family of witches allowed me to take a breath and enjoy every minute of this read.
The Rules of Magic are rather a lot like life lessons. Rule number one is never repudiate yourself. This could mean: never deny you're a witch, but it could also mean: don't try to make yourself smaller than you are.
The Owen siblings come from a long line of witches, are cursed from loving, and each keeps a secret self hidden away from the world. The curse that all three endure is that dire fates will be suffered by any that they truly love.
Vincent Owens has the most obvious secret to keep, and it is kept secret from him as well until he meets the love of his life, much to his surprise a man, and all of a sudden life has meaning. I loved how the book followed many of the cultural events occurring in the US during the 1960s. Vincent gets caught up in the Stonewall Riots, and as he threw himself into this encounter, he truly accepts who he is. He and his partner also travel to San Francisco for the summer of love.
Jet Owens lives a life trying to cut herself off from all love, after the curse cut short the life of her one true love. She hid herself so hard from the world that she lost all of her magical powers. And yet time has a healing patience, and the wounds of her loss repaired themselves with different kinds of love. When she made amends with the family who had hated hers for centuries, her magic returns and she knew she cannot deny that which is inherent to her.
Franny Owens, the Maiden of Thorns, was probably the most surprised by her secret self: that she was in fact brimming over with love, no matter how hard she tried to deny it. Her aunt's final words to do spell out everything when it comes to the real rule of magic, and of life: Love more. Not less. In her love, she finds ways of healing herself, and then others. I love how she began to leave journals in the witch reading room of the library for lost young girls to find. I would 100% have been one of those girls scribbling madly from the heart at the bank of the lake, if I lived in that small hallowed town.
The Rules of Magic is a meandering story through time, and there is no great evil to fight, no villain to overcome. There is only a curse, which as it turns out is in fact just life, and all of us humans are afflicted.
"It is simply the way of the world to lose everything you have ever loved. In this, we are like everyone else."
Perhaps the greatest evil that does show up in the book is not a person, but rather an event: the Vietnam War and the draft lottery. It shows how a cultural movement towards optimism and love is ended cruelly, and the Owenses must bring their magical powers together in order to save Vincent from a vicious fate far from home. But their interference also leads to heartbreaking consequences, as does every one of our actions on earth. The rather melancholy theme of the book is that all things will happen, and all things must be borne, for that is the way of life.
There are also glorious love letters to the seasons in here, reflected in the luscious gardens and greenhouses that grow for witches in their Massachusetts ancestral home. My favourite was this gorgeous description of October, because it perfectly captures why it is my favourite month.
"It was an ending and a beginning, for the month itself was like a gate. October began as a golden hour and ended with Samhain, the day when the worlds of the living and the dead opened to each other. There was no choice but to walk through the gate of time."
My recommendation is read this book, in the beginning of October, when the sun is still shining and you have a little bit of extra time to contemplate life. This book is a feast, rich and layered and deserving of a thorough read.