‘Hot House Flower’ by Margot Berwin

Hothouseflower

Fiction – paperback; Hutchinson; 288 pages; 2009. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Having read Susan Orlean’s classic non-fiction title, The Orchid Thief, and Eric Hansen’s similarly acclaimed Orchid Fever, I had high hopes that this fictionalised account of a woman hunting for rare plants in the tropics of Mexico would be something I’d really enjoy. And while it ticked all the botanical boxes, I’m afraid Hot House Flower was slightly too girlie for me. In fact, the cover image and the cursive font should probably have served as a big warning: this is chick lit and I should read at my peril!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have no objection to chick lit. If it gets people reading and makes people excited about books, then it can only be a good thing. But it’s not a genre I enjoy, for a whole host of reasons. And while Hot House Flower may dish up something slightly more exotic than a girl meets boy romance, when you get right down to it, it is essentially a cosy story about a 32-year-old divorcee looking to find a new man.

Bearing that in mind, it is imminently readable, and I consumed it in two sittings, so eager was I to follow Lila Nova’s journey from high-flying advertising executive in Manhattan to her reinvention as a flower hunter in the luscious rainforest of the Yucatan peninsula.

The first-person narrative is easy to follow and there’s plenty of adventure and thrills and spills to keep you entertained, along with a dash of romance and a bit of magic and witchcraft thrown in for good measure. It’s a fun, light-hearted read and definitely won’t sap the brain power.

However, the magic realism, highly reminiscent of Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells, means you need to suspend belief for much of the story, but especially the latter-third which involves Huichol shamans and herbalists working their supernatural powers. It’s fascinating, if slightly too far-fetched for my liking, but if you’re looking for some sheer escapism this summer, Hot House Flower will fit the bill perfectly.

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