Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Hothouse Flower by Lucinda Riley

After having read an intellectually stimulating book, it can be nice to read a "light" one. Hothouse Flower, or Orkideens Hemmelighet, as it is named in Norwegian, is one of the summers major titles coming from Cappelen Damm. The publisher seems to have singled out this title to be the summer's major holiday read, and so I thought to give it a go.

Often when I order a book for the bookshop I work in, I'll consult Amazon or Play to see what other readers have thought of the book. I was surprised to see that Hothouse Flower had got as much as 4 out of 5 stars on Amazon.

Not all books need to challenge you intellectually. However, what is challenging in Hothouse Flower, is the, at times, unbelievable turn of events, and the reliability of the characters. The book, in all, strikes me as a very long Romance novel, disguised and marketed as something more like Kate Morton.

It starts out promising, with a beautifully told Thai myth about the very rare black orchid. The illusion of quality work, however, is immediately broken by the transition to the frame narrative of Julia, who is struggling to deal with the loss of her husband and son. There's something very flat about the dialogues (perhaps intentionally?), and the story seems a lot less intriguing for me.

To return to the plot, we have Julia, a successful pianist, now broken by loss. On a fluke, she returns with her sister to visit Wharton Park, where their grandfather worked as a gardener and bothanist when they were children. The fateful return puts into motion revelations of the past that ties their family to that of the late Lord Harry of Wharton Park. Dark family secrets slowly come into the light.

In the story within the story, we find ourselves both in Englang and Thailand around the time of WW2. Themes of love and loss, honour and family, are central. The frame narrative echoes the themes and events of the story within the story. And yes, I must admit that at times I am intrigued, but I just cannot come to grips with the characters' lack of communication, and constantly jumping to conclusions. There are constant backs and forths with no other purpose than to create unnecessary attempts at further "suspense". The story within the story is a lot better written than the frame story, and here the author seems to have her strength. I quite enjoyed the language and the nostalgic setting, and the plot was both intriguing and more realistic.

The mysteries in the novel are very slowly revealed, and when the reader starts to think that everything has finally been resolved and that the happy ending draws near, the author introduces the most shocking (and unbelievable?) revelation. This is the point in which the story as a whole lost all credibility to me. Yet again the author goes on to demonstrate that the male characters in the book have no real substance (and all seem to be more or less the same character), except for the obvious villain, whose identity I shall not reveal.

Despite the last-minute obstacles, the hero and heroine get their happy ending, and I am left feeling cheated. The ending is so Disney fairy tale that I'm almost annoyed.

These things aside, Hothouse Flower is one of those stay-up-all-night-to-finish type of books. The story from the past is very engaging and opens up the imagination to another place and time, allowing you to dream away. Despite its many flaws, the book has a definite audience, and I can see why a lot of women would love this book as a beach companion.


supafresh said...

Nice review. The book sounds to me, judging from the review, as though it's for a younger audience...

It reminds me of Atonement, but maybe that's just the WW2 thing and the lack of communication. but stories like that can be very frustrating hey

Sigrid said...

The book is about 500 pages long, and the themes are a bit more mature I'd say, for it to be intended for younger people. That is not to say teenagers wouldn't enjoy it, but rather me saying that I'd guess this was a book mostly for women from 30-60.