The Seed Collectors by Scarlett Thomas
by Amy Pirt
I could easily do a one line review, Twitter-style, for this novel: Like sex and plants? Then you’ll love The Seed Collectors. (Fear not, at no point in The Seed Collectors do carnal relations between humans and plants feature. That would be a mite odd, even for Thomas.)
But a one line review would fail to do justice to this dazzling novel.
The eponymous Seed Collectors were Grace, Plum, Quinn and Briar Rose: Clem’s and Charlie’s mum, Bryony’s parents and Fleur’s mother, respectively. They went missing on an expedition in the Eighties where they were trying to find a miracle plant. But this novel is less about these Seed Collectors, and more about their children and their children’s children: in other words, it is less about their lives, and more about their legacy. And what ‘legacies’ they are: Clem is, like Thomas, a university lecturer, who was Oscar-nominated for a film about the walking palm; Bryony is, rather less interestingly, an estate agent and part-time literature student; Charlie is a botanist who works at Kew; and Fleur runs Namaste House, a celebrity retreat. Successful as they all are, like nature, they are not as pretty and glossy as their surfaces initially suggest. Underneath it all, they are fickle, vain and rather quite nasty at points. It is to Thomas’s credit that, despite her characters being intensely unlikeable, the novel is nevertheless a great success.
I read an article in the Guardian weekend a few months ago in which Thomas detailed her increasing obsession with her Fitbit. Surely, herein lies her inspiration for her Madame Bovary-esque character, Bryony? Conversely, however, it is not fitness Bryony is obsessed with, but food – and shopping. (I’m guessing she’s seen the magnificent play, Shopping and Fucking.) In my favourite scene in the novel, she embarks on a post-prandial, drunken shopping spree which culminates in a rather hot scene in a Southeastern train toilet (I’ll let you read it, rather than reveal anymore. Let’s just say, you’ll never look at those loos in the same light again.)
My one issue would be that, as with Laura Barnett’s fantastic debut, The Versions of Us, I had to keep flicking back to the family tree at the beginning to remind myself who people were and how they were related. (N.B. There is a more accurate family tree at the end – but no peeking!) But then, social media has arguably addled my brain. Clearly, this is never an issue for this original, and shocking as ever, writer.
Many thanks to Anna Frame for the review copy.