the seed collectors review

‘The Seed Collectors’ is a family saga by Scarlett Thomas. The Gardener family is known for their horticultural names, their slight eccentricity, and their hidden secrets. Published by Canongate Books, all of these secrets are slowly revealed as the family falls apart.

‘The Seed Collectors’ was very well-written – there’s a lovely non-linearity to it that absolutely meshes with the themes of reincarnation and metaphysicality. This is contrasted to the superficial quality of various characters’ thoughts, which was interesting. It also has a very quiet magical realism about it that I adored. We are told ‘to imagine’ being various people in various situations, lifting the reader above the family-centered bubble that Thomas has created. The plot line relating to the mysterious seeds themselves was also lovely, and was by far the strongest part of the book.

However, I’ll be honest – this book was not for me. I really, really tried to like it. The characters are just so unlikeable. I am very happy to read a book with unlikeable protagonists – in fact, that’s one of my favourite things to have in a novel. But these ones are so vacuous and stereotypical that I could not bring myself to be even interested in what they were doing. I think the main reason for this is that everyone in this was so bloody privileged.When I was told ‘to imagine’ I was poor, I felt a bit uneasy, but tried not to make a big deal of it. But then – they cried about queuing. They spent £4000 at Harrods on a whim, whilst thinking about Nietzsche. They whinged about their inheritance. They ran million-pound businesses where celebrities find ‘enlightenment’. It was just painful to read.

I did finish the book – I made myself. And it did get better towards the end. I think Thomas was making a point about nirvana versus materialism, and was trying to make us look at our own lives, and see how ridiculous they can be. However, it took too long to get there, and the characters annoyed me too much for me to care.

I am sure Scarlett Thomas is a wonderful writer, when using better characters. I have heard great things about her other publications, and would not hesitate to read them. ‘The Seed Collectors’, however, is a book that I will not be reading again.

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