Books & Reading

Intuition & Alchemy

Intuition: a thing that one knows or considers likely from instinctive feeling rather than conscious reasoning

Alchemy: a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination

Welcome to Brigit’s Book Club! This week, I’m reviewing the first two parts of The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman. Below, you’ll find some of my own favorite quotes and passages, some overarching themes that have begun to jump out at me, and a few questions to get the comments rolling. Feel free to comment here, on Twitter, or on your own blog (just make sure to share the link in the comments!). Also, you are welcome and encouraged to share you own insights and questions.

Some of the questions are personal questions for personal connection and can be answered without having read the book. Feel free to answer these questions even if you are not reading the novel. They might make excellent prompts for your own blog posts!

The inscription before at the beginning of this book is thus:

“There is no remedy for love but to love more.” – Henry David Thoreau

Why might this be an apt beginning to this tale?

The book is broken into six parts. The first two are called Intuition and AlchemyGiven the definitions at the top of this post (or any that you have of your own), why are these appropriate titles for these sections (or not)?


There are many passages that deal with identity (and denying it) in the first part of the novel. What might this have to do with the concept of intuition?


There seems also to be a general fear of falling in love…that there will be terrible repercussions or consequences – a terrible fate that they are all destined to be alone for the protection of themselves and (especially) others. So, Franny, Vincent, Jet, their mother, and their cousin April all avoid it, even though the are easily drawn into superficial relationships. Jet seems to be the most susceptible to love’s call, and believes that it is her weakness and inability (or unwillingness) to heed the warning that causes the deaths of her parents and her boyfriend.

But could it be that their fears are simply leading to self-fulfilling prophecy?

“Perhaps curses were only for those who believed in them.”


The Owenses’ ancestor, Maria, cast a curse that brought an end to any man who fell in love with a member of the family. In the novel, we find out that they are all descendants of a witch-finder and a witch (page 138). What is revealed about Maria’s love affair. Does it help us to understand the reasoning behind the curse? 

Aunt Isabelle seems to represent hope. She is a bridge between the past and the present, holding the history and secrets of the family’s past. She tells the children that “Anything whole can be broken,” and that “…anything broken can be put back together again.” This is in reference to a supposed curse that the family bears, but Isabelle believes the curse can be overturned through forgiveness. The rest of the family believes that they are prisoners of fate.

I’m fated to lose everyone I ever love,” April said. “I already know that.” “Of course you are,” Jet responded in her calm, measured tone. “That’s what it means to be alive.”

What are your thoughts on fate, in general or as they pertain to the novel?

“Unable are the Loved to die, for Love is Immortality,” the boy said. When he saw the way Jet was looking at him he laughed. “I didn’t come up with that, Emily Dickinson did.”

Dickinson’s poetry is referenced a few times in these first parts. What might be the significance?

I noticed a slight similarity between Jet and Levi’s relationship with that of Romeo and Juliet. Is it just me, or was that intentional?


Isabelle was waiting for her with two fresh pots of tea. Franny grinned. She knew this was a test. It was likely Vincent and Jet had already been assessed in the same manner, but Franny had always excelled at such things. She wasn’t afraid to make a choice. “Let’s see what you’ll have,” their aunt said. “Courage or caution?”

Franny drinks her cup and then asks for another, as she is “desperately thirsty” (for courage?). She inquires of her aunt as she pours, “Isn’t that caution?” But her aunt responds, “Oh, they’re both the same.”

What do you suppose this means? And…by the way, which would you choose, and why?

In the section entitled Intuition, the choices lead toward courage, but in the section entitled Alchemy, the tend toward caution. Why is this?

Franny has a deep connection to birds. What do you thing the significance of this is?

Jet gives a copy of The Scarlet Letter to Levi as a gift. Why is this an apt gift?

At the end of part two, Franny has chosen to give up her freedom and knew that “…from now on she would be held hostage by her responsibilities…She would be living at 44 Greenwich Avenue, following her fate, even though what she wanted most of all was headed in the opposite direction.”

Have you ever given up a path in life because you felt beholden to another?

In part 1, Aunt Isabelle shares with her nieces and nephew the rules of magic: 1. Do as you will, but harm no one, 2. What you give will be returned to you threefold. 3. Fall in love whenever you can.

The rules are basically just precepts for life. What are your top three “rules” of magic (or life)?

What other themes have you noticed?

I hope you are enjoying the book! I plan on always choosing books I have not read, which means I run the risk of not liking the book I have selected. So far, I’m enjoying the book. The quality of writing (or style) is not what I would call excellent, but the story moves along quickly and smoothly. I once read that Hoffman’s work is sometimes likened to magical realism or allegorical fairy tales. So maybe that explains the lack of deep description and strong character development in favor of plot-driven storytelling. It’s definitely a different read for me, and I’m looking forward to re-watching Practical Magic at the end of the month with the backstory to make it more interesting.

Once again…Happy Reading! Over the next week, comment and continue reading. I’ll be back to review the comments and move onto parts 3 and 4 next Thursday.

Here’s the remaining calendar, if you need it:
October 18 – Part 3 and 4
October 25 – Part 5 and 6

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By Brigit Delaney

Welcome to my little corner of the internet! I am a blogger, poet, photographer, and writer of erotica, living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I'm glad you came. Sit back, kick off your shoes, and stay awhile.

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