The Seed Collectors by Scarlett Thomas
I loved The End of Mr Why – I’ve read it three times and I’m still finding more details and philosophical questions to ponder. Thus, when I saw Thomas’s new book at the airport, I was immediately drawn to it, not least of all because I’m a sucker for pretty covers. I read it on the plane and 11 hours later, when I finally closed the covers, I felt a bit conflicted. Thomas writes so exquisitely, but this story is as thorny as it is twisted, and I really disliked her attitude towards women and sex. Aside from the graphic fantasies of rape, not to mention incest, I didn’t like the overriding lack of respect all her female protagonists had for themselves. It detracted from the novel and made me uncomfortable.
The story follows the unraveling of the Gardener clan – a family of gardeners who resemble a vine in their complicated intertwining. All the characters are named after plants, and they take turns in narrating the tale, so we never settle into one person’s consciousness and are constantly judging from another’s perspective. Thomas jumps between over 12 different narrators, so it’s impossible to become complacent or to relax into one protagonist’s point of view. However, despite the different branches, there is one overriding plot thread, which is the mysterious and somewhat fantastical disappearance of a generation of the Gardeners – a group of infamous botanists who disappeared while in pursuit of a rare seedpod.
There’s no roses in Thomas’s bunch of characters either. They’re honest, raw and, often, quite ugly. One character I particularly detested but also felt myself drawn to was Bryony Gardener – a lady of lies, self-destruction and entanglements, who goes on a serious bender of a binge, during which we occupy her mind. Thomas’s roaming palm of a narration doesn’t limit itself to human characters either. One of my favourite interludes was when she jumped into the poetic mind of a robin for a moment of quiet strength.
Her writing style is beautiful to behold – there’s a melody behind it, and she combines philosophy with humour, wit and poetry perfectly. She deftly tackles serious subject matter such as inheritance and our place in the universe, and her attention to detail is sublime.
Would you die for absolute enlightenment?