It’s very easy to see the allure of the lives led by the Hollywood elite when you’re an outsider looking in through the peephole that is the paparazzi and celebrity news. Our society is so enamored with celebrities because often all we see is the money they have, the extravagant houses, cars, designer clothes, and whatever else they want that can be bought at the drop of a hat, and the power that derives from it all. As far as most of us are concerned, if you don’t have to worry about money, what is there to worry about? But money can’t buy a lot of things, and we’re learning that lesson from the rich and famous all the time; just look at the number of celebrity drama stories that break everyday, the laundry list of celebrities who have battled addictions, self-destructive behavior, who have committed crimes and served time in prison, and especially the shocking number of deaths, many unnecessary, that have occurred within the pearly gates of Hollywood. The lives of the rich and famous are not as beautiful, fabulous, or worry-free as they have been projected to all of us to be. That is exactly where Billy Jolie’s gritty fiction thriller The Lust Garden is set–in the seedy, ugly darkness within Hollywood.
The Lust Garden revolves around three central characters whose stories weave into one another and back out again, each putting one bad decision in front of the next to reach their collective tumultuous end. Rachyl is a model with a raging drug addiction who is rapidly descending to rock bottom all the while grasping for the coattails of anyone who will pay her the least bit of attention. Vance was a struggling B-list actor until he started dating Hollywood “It Girl” Gianna Salvani who rose his stock within the industry significantly while he cheats on her every chance he gets, most of the time with Rachyl. And of course, there’s Gianna Salvani, a classic American actress-turned-pop star who can’t get enough attention that we are all so, very familiar with. Not one of these characters are likeable in the beginning of the book; Gianna is a whiny brat whom you can very well imagine throwing a temper tantrum of a 5-year-old’s magnitude if she ever heard the word ‘no.’ Vance is a Class A douchebag who thinks it is his right to get into the pants of any woman he deems worthy for the night, and Rachyl is just a sloppy, pathetic mess. Naturally, they all firmly believe that they are the center of the universe.
While I could not stand these characters as the story began to unfold, I was interested in where they were going, and I was surprised at just how quickly I was drawn into their lives. Jolie’s character development was fast-paced and right on cue; as I began to think that these characters really were one-dimensional caricatures of Hollywood’s elite pretty people, another facet of their lives and inner struggles opened up, giving them depth and room to grow. Enter a serial killer with an obsessive hunger for Gianna Salvani who has a raw and deeply broken story of their own, and what we have here is one dark, thrilling book that took me on an emotional rollercoaster of my own.
The Lust Garden contains explicit language and extremely graphic scenes describing drug use, sex, and violence. This is all fine by me; in fact, I am more put off by an author trying to play it safe with their language as not to offend anyone than when an author is frank and unapologetically sticks to their creative vision and writes a character exactly how you would expect them to speak. I can’t imagine a drug-addicted model not spewing a few expletives as the chaotic life of her own making comes crashing down around her. As for the scenes that take the reader step-by-step through a world of sex, drugs, and violence, I think that the graphic detail added authenticity to the world that these characters live in. Despite my very strongly-held beliefs about creative integrity and the use of strong language (and because the thought of censorship makes any lover of creativity and art want to cry), when I got about halfway through this book, I wasn’t going to finish it. I put it away for several days and had to talk myself into picking it back up again. The reason for this is because while there are explicit descriptions of sex, there are also descriptions of rape, child abuse, and child sexual assault, in just as much detail as the sexual encounters of the characters and the play-by-play of exactly how Rachyl snorts a line of cocaine off of her index finger.
These experiences belong to the serial killer, whose transformation from a vulnerable and innocent child to a hungry, calculating, and possessive Lion were rooted in abuse and violation endured as a child. These scenes were particularly difficult for me to get through because of my own history with child abuse and sexual violence. Reading the intimate descriptions of these experiences, and the resulting transformation that ensued within this character because of them, left a pit in my stomach that wouldn’t budge. Giving myself a small break from this story was something that I needed to do, but I think it is also a testament to how well-written these scenes were. They affected me on an extremely deep, emotional level and left me wide open.
I’m glad that I picked this book back up and decided to see it through to the end because as difficult as the journey may have been, the destination was well worth it. I have a thing with mysteries where within the first handful of chapters of a book or the first half hour of a movie, I have an inkling as to where the story will ultimately end up. With The Lust Garden, by the time I reached the end, I was absolutely shocked. When I thought I had it figured out, I was dead wrong.
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I received a copy of “The Lust Garden” by Billy Jolie for review as part of a book tour with Promotional Book Tours. No other compensation was received, and opinions are my own.