Review

Hothouse Flower and the 9 Plants of Desire

by Margot Berwin

Lila Nova seems like a stereotypical New York thirty-something
ad exec: slightly cynical, smart and ambitious. But after her
devastating divorce, her outlook begins to change. One day in her
neighborhood green market, she sees a plant, a beautiful plant that
makes her stop in her tracks. She buys it from the handsome, sexy
and intriguing vendor, David Exley, and it flourishes in her small
barren apartment. In Margot Berwin's fun and fantastical debut,
HOTHOUSE FLOWER AND THE 9 PLANTS OF DESIRE, Lila's purchase begins
an adventure in magical horticulture that takes her from New York
City to the jungles and beaches of Mexico in search of the world's
nine most powerful plants.

Shortly after buying the bird-of-paradise from Exley, Lila
stumbles upon an amazing laundromat. In it plants grow wild and
moss covers the floor. The proprietor, a strange and cryptic man
named Armand, gives Lila a cutting from a rare fern and tells her
to return if she can succeed in getting the plant to root. When she
does so, Armand shares with her the myth of the nine plants of
desire. There are nine plants, he explains, that are powerful and
elusive; when collected together they have the ability to give the
owner all they desire. He promises someday to show his collection
to her. But before he can, the laundromat is looted and the plants
stolen. Armand and Lila quickly realize that David Exley is the
thief, and they leave New York for Mexico to try to collect
specimens of the nine plants to replace Armand's stolen ones.

Lila soon finds herself in a world totally alien; in the jungles
of Mexico magic reigns and she must overcome her fears, harness her
own powers of will, desire and attraction, come face to face with
the power of the jaguar, confront Exley in a dangerous attempt to
steal back one of the plants, and finally, save the man she loves
(who she incidentally poisoned) from certain death.

Berwin's tale is part botany textbook, part adventure story and
part romance novel, and is totally infused with magical realism and
traditional folkloric motifs. Lila's journey is nothing less than
completely transformative, and the characters she meets along the
way are seductive and powerful. To survive and complete her
odyssey, she has to decide who she can trust and in the end learn
to trust her own instincts. In this way, the book is a modern fairy
tale: Lila is the heroine who must conquer an external enemy while
becoming her true self assisted by spiritual guides (human, animal
and plant).

Berwin’s first novel is confident and lively, and her
prose manages to be both passionate and funny. She is at her best
in marrying wit and science: the plants are perhaps the most
compelling characters presented. There are plenty of surprising and
interesting moments to keep readers turning pages. Sometimes
predictable and sometimes too far-fetched (magical realism is an
ambitious style to undertake, much less in a debut), HOTHOUSE
FLOWER AND THE 9 PLANTS OF DESIRE nevertheless delivers an original
story and interesting characters in an amazing setting.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 22, 2011

Hothouse Flower and the 9 Plants of Desire
by Margot Berwin

  • Publication Date: June 1, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 0307390543
  • ISBN-13: 9780307390547