I was given the book Hothouse Flower and The 9 Plants of Desire by Margot Berwin to review. The publisher's synopsis is:
Lila Nova is a thirty-two year-old advertising copyrighter who lives alone in a plain, white box of an apartment. Recovering from a heartbreaking divorce, Lila’s mantra is simple: no pets, no plants, no people, no problems. But when Lila meets David Exley, a ruggedly handsome plant-seller, her lonely life blossoms into something far more colorful. From the cold, harsh streets of Manhattan to the verdant jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula, Hothouse Flower is the story of a woman who must travel beyond the boundaries of sense and comfort to find what she truly wants.
I'm going to talk about my own personal take. I enjoyed the book overall; it was an engaging, quick read. I read the first half on megabus on the way to Chicago and the second half at the Lurie Garden in Chicago.
In fact, I left the book tucked in some calamint at the Lurie when I was done, hoping it would make a nice surprise for someone else.
I liked how the book tied people's love of plants to their growth as people. I was amazed by how much in the book resonated with me and was struck by how many quotes really hit home.
One of the characters thought technology was superior to the natural world, and that nature was useless. When Lila's cell phone battery oozed and disintegrated in the jungle, she thought "The old nature kicked the new nature's ass." It reminded me of a caption to a photo a friend once took of grasses growing over an old tractor: "When the works of nature cover the works of man, that's progress."
In one scene Sonali tells Lila, "Once you make a decision, you must stop thinking about it and take action without any regret toward the outcome, regardless of that outcome" (emphasis mine). In other words, once you make a decision, don't waste time and energy focusing on what if. Own the decision. This really, really hit home and was just what I need to hear right at that very moment.
Sonali continued, "Regrets are for people who believe they could have done something differently. If you think carefully about your actions, and then you act, you will have no regrets because you will know that you were as careful as possible when you made the decision."
It was also cool to find out my last name is part of the Spanish word for seeds, semilla.
I really liked Armand and Sonali's deep love and passion for one another. It was nice to see such depth of feelings between older, outside-of-the-norm, squishy-around-the-middle people. That true love is not only reserved for the young, hot, and fit.
I also liked the idea of flower versus root people, with root people "drawn to the darker side of things, the underground or unseen aspects." I'm definitely a root person.
I love Diego's take on people losing their personal identity, in favor of being what society wants, a little bit every year like a zipper slowly closing the person up in one of those full-body, "mummy" sleeping bags. He was very much into knowing who you are and being that person.
He told Lila, "Believe me, when you know yourself, you never want to pretend to be anything else ever again because it is better than anything you have ever pretended, or dreamed up, or imagined, or become." That so resonated with what I've been working toward over the last 8 or so years, I got all misty-eyed, right there on megabus.
The book really helped me tie some loose ends in my mental ether, and for that I'm in Berwin's debt.
Edited: Frances asked what the nine plants are, and of course you guys are gonna wanna know that. How silly of me! They're:
Gloxina, Gloxina speciosa, love
Mexican cycad, Zamia furfuracea, immortality
Cacoa, Theobroma cacao, wealth
Moonflower, Ipomoea alba, fertility
Sensemilla, Cannabis sativa, female sexuality
Lily of the valley, Convallarria majalis, life force
Mandrake, Atropa mandragora, magic
Chicory, Cichorium intybus, freedom
Datura, Datura inoxia, adventure
And a tenth: the passion plant with no name whose form curls inward like a mandala.
Stop reading now if you don't want spoilers!
Being who I am with no regrets, I admit some scenes at the end of the book were hard for me to accept. I understand the book is light reading, escapist or fantasy but not literal, but I got a bit lost somewhere between the realistic beginning and the magical, mystical end.
I was on-board with Diego drinking with the deer; he is connected to the land in a way Lila is not, and getting a group of harmless animals to accept you, versus run away from you, is one thing. However, I did not buy that a black panther would lead Lila, an urban dweller with no animal whispering skills we knew of, to David's house instead of, say, dousing her in BBQ sauce (metaphorically) and having her for dinner (literally).
I was puzzled by how they got the deadly scorpions into the piñatas without getting stung. I wondered how the scorpions survived for days or weeks, and why they didn't chew their way out.
I got the feeling I was supposed to like or relate to Lila, who consistently did more harm than good. I didn't. I wanted to kick her really hard for feeding the mandrake to Diego. Perhaps she was a metaphor for how developed nations perceive and impose their views on developing countries.
Ever since Diego mentioned, when he first met Lila, that one of the nine desires was knowledge, I waited anxiously to discover what the corresponding plant was, but it was never revealed.
I also thought Lila going back to NYC the day Armand told her to was out of character after all she supposedly learned and changed. I suspect, in fact, she did not return to Mexico after all, and fell back into her NYC life.
On balance, I have no regrets reading the book and came away with a lot from it. Thanks to TLC Book Tours for giving me the opportunity to review it.