Which is not something seen on the Ramblings before, I think – but Middle Child has long been a huge fan of Scarlett Thomas’s work and so when I saw that NetGalley were kindly offering ARCs of her new book, I thought of MC. One request later, and Middle Child was reading away. I thought it would be nice if she could review it here, as Thomas is not an author I’d probably read, and so here are Middle Child’s thoughts on “The Seed Collectors”. Nothing quite strikes panic into my chest like being told I ‘must’ read a book, especially when I’m given a deadline to read it. It’s what I like to refer to as my ‘Post Degree Stress Disorder’. My relationship with reading has been turbulent at times, with the page-counting months of University still haunting my enjoyment of reading. Therefore, when asked to write this post I initially froze, then felt angry, and then finally excited; because Scarlett Thomas is the only author that makes me want to read so fervently that nothing else matters.
As a Reader in Creative Writing at Kent University, Thomas is an expert in weaving tales. With protagonists that quite often centre on students or adults in academia, her novels struck a chord with undergraduate me, and every Christmas when I was taking breaks from revising yet another Medieval Romance, I would retreat to my room with an unread Thomas.
Thomas is endlessly curious, having explored quantum physics, consumerism, mathematics, religion, sexuality, tragedy and postmodernism to name a few. Her most recent jaunt into the unknown takes the form of The Seed Collectors, which explores the world of botany, nature, enlightenment, and desire. You will learn about nature. You will feel illuminated. You will leave wanting more.
“Great Aunt Oleander is dead.” This is what most people start with when describing this novel, because really, it is one of the only certainties of the story you can rely on.
The Seed Collectors is almost a collection of moments, following the characters after their family key-stone Oleander has passed. As you are swept along at an incredible pace through the lives of the Gardener family, there is rarely a chance to stop and ‘Breathe in. Breathe out.’ There is Bryony, the collector of empty mantras sold to her by fad diets, wearable technology, anti-aging cream and Château Pétrus, and James, her vanilla husband. Ollie and Clem, a mid-life-crisis University Lecturer and his wife, a film-maker with a penchant for time-lapse. Charlie, the ‘cool Uncle’ and a-typical bachelor. Fleur, who must pick up the pieces at Namaste House after its guru Oleander has passed, and find her own place in amongst revealed secrets. And behind it all, a family tree more complicated that any botanical language that you can find in these pages, and the mysterious disappearance of the majority of a family generation: Grace, Plum and Briar Rose.
The narrative is beautifully crafted, a nod to the modernist stream of consciousness style, saturated with powerful imagery, cross-pollinated with cruel postmodernism and its up-the-garden-path trickery. There were sections of the book where I was unsure who was talking, when an event was taking place, or if it even mattered to the plot. It all created a feeling of oneness and unity, rather than linearity and structure, which was a resounding take-away message from Thomas.
Everything I try to vocalise about The Seed Collectors sounds a bit fluffy, so let me be clear. This book will not make you feel good. This book will not give you answers. What it will do is take you on a treasure-chase to the edge of your understanding, and lead you to the realisation that it was never about a destination, but the journey.
Thomas’s novels are always oozing with contemporary resonance, so read it. Now.
Many thanks to Middle Child for the excellent review – I’m almost convinced I should read this! “The Seed Collectors” is published on 2nd July – thanks also to NetGalley and publishers Canongate for providing the ARC!