Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire

Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire

3.7 21
by Margot Berwin

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Eat, Pray, Love meets The Orchid Thief in this rollicking debut novel about plant magic, spiritual discovery, and romantic fever in the jungles of Mexico.

Shortly after her divorce, advertising executive Lila Nova purchases her first plant. It’s a bird-of-paradise, and the seller is David Exley, a rugged “country-sexual”See more details below


Eat, Pray, Love meets The Orchid Thief in this rollicking debut novel about plant magic, spiritual discovery, and romantic fever in the jungles of Mexico.

Shortly after her divorce, advertising executive Lila Nova purchases her first plant. It’s a bird-of-paradise, and the seller is David Exley, a rugged “country-sexual” who seems to promise a paradise of his own making. Lila is immediately obsessed—with plants and with the man who sells them—but when David introduces her to the myth of the nine plants of desire, and when she meets a man named Armand who claims to own the nine plants, her obsession reaches unexpected heights: if she can possess all nine plants, the legend goes, her wildest dreams will be fulfilled.
But Lila is too trusting, and as a result she is soon off on an adventure she never meant to take: in the Yucatán, alone, hefting a backpack full of travel guides and expensive shampoo, and learning...

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Berwin delivers a bangup debut packed with adventure, betrayal, love and, naturally, rare plants. New York ad woman Lila Nova, increasingly disillusioned with her job and the city, becomes enchanted by David Exley, a handsome guy selling plants at a green market. Soon, she's hooked on him, and her budding fascination with tropical plants leads her to a Laundromat that has a rare fern displayed in the window. Proprietor Armand quickly befriends Lila and gives her a trimming from the fern to take home, telling her if it forms roots, he'll show her the nine special plants he keeps in the back room. When Exley sees the fern trimming, Lila tells him about Armand's special plants, and soon the plants have been stolen and Exley has disappeared. Armand guilts Lila into coming to Mexico with him to find replacement plants, and there's magic, romance, greenery and greed as Lila and Armand venture through the Yucatan, hooking up with potential love-interest Diego and running into the devious Exley. It's a fun page-turner-escapist and wonderfully entertaining. (June)

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Library Journal

At 32, divorcée Lila Nova discovers possibilities in her Union Square neighborhood when she buys a bird of paradise from David, the cute tropical plant guy at the farmers market. Later, Lila stumbles upon a Laundromat wherein exists a collection of nine plants that together supposedly allow their caretaker to achieve his or her deepest desires. Laundromat owner Armand warns her not to tell anyone, and rightly so: David steals the plants. To make amends, Lila follows Armand to his home in Mexico to replace the missing blooms. The oppressive heat and dampness, the odors of decay and rotting earth, the abundance of scorpions and otherworldly behaviors in Berwin's first novel will get under your skin, even as Lila's "adventure" leads her to self-discovery. What could have been a terrific New York novel morphs into an unconvincing tale of magical realism, where spirit animals roam the jungle and tree vibrations lead to mythological bromeliads. Readers made of sterner stuff might find the journey worth the effort. [See Prepub Alert, LJ2/15/09.]
—Bette-Lee Fox

Kirkus Reviews
Berwin's debut sends a New York singleton south of the border in search of plants with magical powers. Recently divorced, 30-ish Lila Nova lives in a tiny studio apartment, works an unfulfilling job in advertising and wonders when her dreams of adventure, riches and true love fell by the wayside. In an intriguing and well-paced premise, Lila's life is turned upside down when she buys a bird-of-paradise plant on a whim from ruggedly handsome David Exley. Lila isn't too quick-witted, but she is quick with her heart; it takes about one sentence for her to fall in love. Shortly after, she stumbles upon an extraordinary laundromat whose owner, Armand, uses it as a greenhouse for his exotic plants. Lila's involvement with Armand and David leads her to Mexico to look for the nine mythical plants of desire. There, the story veers into bizarre chaos. Lila meets Diego, a walking Armani ad rather than a credible character, with about as much personality as a billboard. The heat of her attraction to him practically emanates from the page, which might have been a nice thematic touch, if Lila's obsessive behavior with men weren't too frightening to enjoy. In the Yucatan jungle, plants take on magical powers that both help and hinder Lila on her quest. Her journey wraps up before it even begins, making it hard to believe she's had time to learn anything. Lila herself offers the only evidence that she has changed, and since she's been a fairly oblivious narrator, readers won't want to take her word for it. Poorly executed magical realism.

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 9.24(h) x 1.05(d)

Read an Excerpt

Bird-of-Paradise (Strelitzia reginae) Native of South Africa, member of the banana family, prized for its tall, highly colored structures. This plant is not for the easily disappointed, impatient, or bossy, as it can take seven years to produce a single bloom. Perfect for the person who gives and gives without getting anything in return. You know who you are. I inadvertently became interested in tropical plants because that's what the man at the Union Square Green Market sold me. I used to believe that sentence, but now I know better. Now I know that it was meant to be. Here's how it happened. I had just moved to Fourteenth Street and Union Square, into a small, newly renovated studio with absolutely no character. It was a square-shaped box with parquet floors, no molding, no details, white paint, and low ceilings. It was exactly the kind of apartment I wanted. Its newness meant that there were no memories trapped in the walls or the floorboards. No arguments or harrowing scenes of unrequited love staring at me from the bathroom mirror. It was brand-new. Just like I wanted my life to be. I thought a bit of foliage might spruce the place up, no pun intended, and add some much-needed color, so I walked across the street to the Union Square Green Market to make my purchase. The man at the plant stand was a throwback. He had streaky blond hair and a dirt-colored tan that came from being outside all the time. In his worn-out flannel shirt and beat-up Timberlands--worn for work, not fashion--he stood out in stark contrast to the manicured metro-sexuals perusing the market, wicker baskets in one hand, Gucci sunglasses in the other. This man was different. He was a rugged country-sexual. He asked me to describe my apartment not in terms of the square footage or the make of the stove and the fridge, but by the amount of light, temperature, and humidity. I told him that I had floor-to-ceiling windows, which was mostly true, although they were more ceiling-to-heating-unit than ceiling-to-floor. I told him that I had an unobstructed south-facing view, hard to find in New York City, and that as long as the sun was shining it was hot and sunny all day long, even in the winter. I hadn't lived in my apartment through a winter, so I'm not sure why I said that, but I guess it sounded good to me, and also to him, since he bent down amongst his plants, head covered with purple flowers, butt in the air, and emerged with a big smile and a two-foot-high bunch of leaves. I was disappointed. "What is it?" "A bird-of-paradise," he said, holding it up toward the sky and twirling the pot around with his fingertips. "A tropical plant?" I asked, zipping my coat against the late-March wind and picturing its imminent death. "Hawaiian, to be exact. Strelitzia reginae. A member of the banana family. She needs lots of sunlight, not too direct, and let the soil dry out between waterings. She's tough to raise, and she won't flower for five or six or maybe seven years, depending on the weather. And the love," he added with a wink. I unzipped my jacket. Six or seven years? My marriage didn't last that long. Do you have anything that flowers sooner, like in a week or two?" "This is the plant for you," he said. "She's a beauty." "How much?" "Thirty dollars, and I'll throw in a brochure on rare tropicals so you know how to care for her." "Three zero I could go to the deli on the corner and get a dozen roses for ten dollars that have great big sweet-smelling flowers on them right now." "You could, but they'd be dead in a week. You'd have to buy new ones every Saturday. If you do the math, I'm a bargain. And besides, this bird is tropical. Think balmy ocean breezes, swaying palm trees,...

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