Rating: 4 stars
Margo Berwin’s tale revels in the magic and mysticism of tropical plants. Lush descriptions and tight plotting make for a delightful reader experience that is both artistic and sensual. However, certain metaphysical aspects fail to deliver on the initial promise of the story.
Story: 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. (from Publishers Weekly)
Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. In the preface, Berwin explains that her knowledge of plant magic and shamanism is drawn from her experiences with a friend named Armand. I know little of the art of herbal magic, but her descriptions are fascinating. Armand’s knowledge of plants makes me wish I knew more. Although the material is extremely intriguing, I found myself wanting to learn more about Armand’s experiences in the spiritual realm that I could learn from and apply in my own life.
My take: Debut author Margot Berwin has produced an excellent novel. The plot is tight and moves quickly, her language pleases the senses, and I particularly enjoyed how she structured the chapters around the plants that are vividly described in the book. The introduction to each chapter contains a quirky introduction to the plant that aptly sets up the story to follow. The exotic setting perfectly complements the story’s mysticism. This is a fun example of a book that completely slips through the traditional genre cracks to find its place on the new age fiction shelf.
Although I felt engaged by the book, I never did connect to the main character. Lila seems cold and remote from the beginning, and her later actions prove her to be greedy, ruthless, and destructive. The ending was definitely unexpected, which is always good. However, it was not entirely satisfying from a metaphysical perspective. More people than just Lila and Exley were revealed to have selfish motives, and Lila did not seem to learn or change very much as a result of what should have been truly profound spiritual experiences. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The plot is a page turner, and the lush and lascivious descriptions of plants made the novel a pleasure to read on several levels.
Pantheon Books, 2009
Paperback, 300 pages
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