Fans of Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic are sure to enjoy The Witches of Cambridge by Menna van Praag, a gentle story about a group of women with supernatural gifts and a bevy of romance problems.
This is an ensemble story that touches on the lives of five women, all witches: Amandine, Noa, Cosima, Kat and Helena. Amandine, a professor at Cambridge University, can feel other people’s emotions, as well as divine what artists felt while making a work of art. Amandine has always had a close and happy relationship with her husband, but she can sense that he has a secret, and it's threatening to drive them apart. Noa, a student at the University, can read people’s secrets. Unfortunately for her, she also feels compelled to blurt them out, a habit that plays havoc with her social life. Noa falls madly in love with a painter who offers to cure her of magic, but as their relationship progresses, she finds herself giving up her dreams to advance his own. Cosima, a baker, uses kitchen magic to bring people luck or love, and despite life-threatening health problems, she attempts to use magic to become pregnant against the advice of her sister, unlucky-in-love mathematics professor Kat. Amandine’s mother, Heloise, a recent widow, can see the future, but her magic has faded following the death of her husband. Her story begins as she emerges from crippling grief and depression, and she soon develops an interest in a fellow widower.
The characters tend to find that their magic is a liability rather than an asset when it comes to matters of the heart. Van Praag’s writing is lyrical and the story sweetly affirming. A running theme through this novel is the importance of honesty—Noa’s characteristic of candor that she so loathes is crucial to healing the various wounds of the women. Like one of Cosima’s confections, The Witches of Cambridge attempts to comfort rather than challenge the reader, and it has a lulling—but never boring—quality.