Lila Nova lives in a drab, drab world. Stuck in a mediocre job in New York City, Lila installs herself in a new apartment after divorce — and settles into her colorless world. It’s not until she meets David Exley, an easy-on-the-eyes plant-seller, that she begins to breathe life back into her days . . . and that may come in the form of vegetation and love.
But greed gets the better of Lila when she stumbles across a special Laundromat brimming with plants — and meets its owner, Armand, a sort of shaman in possession of the mystical and highly-prized Nine Plants of Desire. Their friendship grows stronger — as do Lila’s own plants — until one terrible misstep destroys the Laundromat and its treasures. Consumed with guilt, Lila will do anything to right the wrongs she’s helped commit — even if it means traveling to the rain forest alone and tracking down salvation herself.
In your own backyard, start out by placing a terracotta pot in direct sunlight. Grab seeds for magical realism, women’s fiction and erotic romance (!), bury into the rich soil, water and cultivate . . . what sprouts will be Margot Berwin’s Hothouse Flower, an incredibly strange but engrossing read that killed a six-hour plane ride for me in no time.
Lila is a damaged, crazed and especially vulnerable woman. As she tries to change and move on, she feels a kinship with the plants she purchases from David Exley — an unusual man who doesn’t seem interested in our heroine until he discovers her connection to the Nine Plants of Desire. Desire is a funny word in this book, because it’s everywhere . . . love and raw sensuality run through the novel like a current, drawing readers into a supple world where plants inspire amour and urges won’t be denied. I’ll be frank: I didn’t expect so much sex in this book, but sex was there to be had. All over the place. Like, a lot.
But there was plenty more to this story, too. The novel takes an incredibly weird turn halfway through as we journey to the Yucatan Peninsula with Lila and Armand, and it’s there that we learn more about the Nine Plants and their properties. The descriptions were absolutely intoxicating: dreams the plants can help you discover; fears you can overcome; love you can inspire, all with a cutting from a fern. It’s too fantastical to be believed, though, right?
Lila doesn’t think so — and, confronted with hard proof, she knows Armand’s crazy stories about the plants must be true. Hothouse Flower is richly atmospheric and interesting, but it also left me deeply unsettled — especially after a certain drug- and dog-related scene toward the latter part of the novel (awful). It felt sort of like an acid trip: all Technicolor scenes, strange occurrences, magical plants and sexy sex time in the rain forest. What started out as a simple post-divorce story in New York City morphed in a wholly unexpected way . . . and I’m not sure I dug it.
But I did tear through this like the hounds of hell were on my trail, and that’s saying something. I consumed the entire book on my plane ride home from London — hours in which I could have been getting some precious and much-needed sleep. Once I’d started, I couldn’t set it down (except to get a little in-flight milky tea; caffeine and I go way back).
Say what you will about it, but I doubt you’ll ever read another book like Hothouse Flower — like Armand’s plants, the premise and product are one-of-a-kind. And that makes it worth a read for me.
3.5 out of 5!