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Profile Image for Blair.
1,794 reviews4,437 followers
August 13, 2016
Updated review, 22 June 2015:

Back in January, I wrote on my blog of The Seed Collectors, 'if this lets me down, I may as well give up reading'. Well, this is awkward. And very disappointing, obviously.

A bit of context before I start talking about this particular book. Scarlett Thomas's Our Tragic Universe is one of my favourite novels, and made the author one of my favourite novelists. With the exception of one early, out-of-print mystery (which I own a copy of), I have read everything else she's done. I've been waiting over four years for The Seed Collectors. Seriously - Goodreads shows I have had it on my wishlist shelf since it was first added to the site: 19 April 2011, to be exact. When I heard that review copies were becoming available, I emailed the publisher to ask (beg) for one - only the second time I have ever done that. So, believe me, I was hyped for this. I think it's now safe to say I was far too hyped.

There are certain things I have always found reliably great about Thomas's later, better novels (from PopCo onwards). They have fantastic characters: compelling, messy and human. The characters have fascinating conversations and debates that strike a perfect balance between a brilliant ideal and a recognisable level of normality and/or imperfection, achieving an effect that makes me wish I was best friends with her characters, or people like them, or simply knew people who talked like this in real life. The books' plots have a similarly impressive knack of weaving together big ideas and mundane everyday stuff, making them feel smarter than average but very much grounded in reality, and 'readable' - stories you can learn from and genuinely enjoy at the same time.

You wouldn't believe how many notes I have on this book - an essay-length compendium, mostly made up of angry ranting, most of which I've scrapped. I should clarify that I was angry, partly at myself, because I was so disappointed. A lot of my problems come down to a judgement that's perhaps unfair: The Seed Collectors doesn't match up to the expectations I inevitably had, based on the above things I've loved about the author's previous work. The characters are almost all unpleasant: the men are lecherous creeps, the women vacuous. Aside from a minor character (Zoe, who seemed like a refugee from an earlier Thomas novel), I didn't like any of them*. The characters are also terrible at communicating with each other, so that rules out the interesting conversations. There are ideas here, but they're scattered so indiscriminately (I suppose that's intentional? Scattered like seeds?) that it's hard to pull any theme or meaning out of them.

(*Does this matter? It doesn't always - obviously - but in this case I would say it does. It mattered because it meant I couldn't have cared less what happened to any of them, therefore had no investment in the story, therefore could easily have put the book aside at any point and never picked it up again. Characters don't have to be likeable if they're compelling or interesting, but personally I didn't find these characters at all compelling or interesting.)

I've spent a lot of time considering the idea that Thomas means this book as a kind of satire or a postmodern narrative experiment. In terms of form, it's probably the most inventive thing she's done, with very little linearity. The main narrative is broken up and often interrupted by random paragraphs inviting the reader to 'imagine' some scenario or concept. Key moments are seen through filters, merely overheard or glimpsed by an uninvolved character and never revealed in full. There are sections told from the point of view of birds. Multiple middle-aged characters have internal monologues akin to a teenager's Twitter - 'omfg' and 'ffs' and 'like, obvs' everywhere; every other word in capitals - a conceit that didn't work at all for me. There are dreams and lists and splashes of fantasy; I was reminded of the way Our Tragic Universe was structured around the idea of a 'storyless story' while not breaking away entirely from the conventional narrative form. The Seed Collectors takes another step towards the 'storyless' mode by splitting up and dispersing its narrative, by virtually ignoring some of its supposed main plot points and going in whichever direction it chooses.

But the actual content, though - it's bafflingly prosaic. We have a female character defined by the fact that she's fat - cue reams of boring agonising over calories and diets; we have an ageing male professor fantasising about a female student and couching it in terms of pseudo-paternal concern. Mentions of brands are so frequent you'd be forgiven for thinking Mulberry have paid for product placement. Presumably, the point is to subvert tired themes and send up consumerism (or the proliferation of brand names in commercial fiction? or the way contemporary literary fiction represents middle class people?) but again, this was something that just didn't work for me, being at once too obvious about its intentions and too opaque in its meaning. This was the real crux of my problem with the book. The banal concerns and endless brand names drag everything else down, and the 'philosophical' snippets therefore feel totally inconsequential because they're merely inserted into the narrative at random points, rather than being spoken about by characters in a way that feels natural.

It gives me no pleasure to write a negative review of something from a favourite author, but I have to be honest, I really didn't like this book. Obviously, nobody said that the author had to make this book like her other books, and given the differences I'm sure she didn't want it to be. But when I think about her previous novels (especially Our Tragic Universe) I remember things I really and truly love, little portals to worlds I want to lose myself in. My enduring impressions of The Seed Collectors are: a sense of relief at getting away from these awful people; and a lingering concern that I must have completely misinterpreted the whole story in some fundamental way.

I think it's important to emphasise that I really wouldn't want this review to put anyone off reading other Scarlett Thomas books. I just can't recommend this one.

Previous review, 25 May 2015:

I'm very, very disappointed to report that I didn't enjoy this at all. It isn't anything like any of Scarlett Thomas's other books: the characters aren't likeable, they don't have interesting conversations, the way it's written is infuriating, the narrative is all over the place and everything feels unfinished. But I couldn't shake the feeling that I was somehow reading it wrong - that it's meant as some kind of experiment or satire that I hadn't quite understood, or had approached in the wrong sort of way.

I have the notes for a much longer and more detailed review, but I'm putting them aside for now. I'm really interested in seeing what critics and other readers make of it. If there's anything in others' responses that makes me reassess my viewpoint, I may revisit the book in the near future.
Profile Image for Sian Lile-Pastore.
1,231 reviews154 followers
August 7, 2015
Have loved Scarlett Thomas's other books, but this one was a big fat struggle for me. Not sure what was going on here - some interesting ideas (lots of yoga stuff which I'm all over like a rash) , but such obnoxious characters (and so many of them) and people saying amazeballs... Like someone else said on here - are we meant to be annoyed? Are we meant to hate the characters? Is it some weird satire?
Reading it was like listening to some awful radio 4 play full of posh people.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,675 reviews2,667 followers
November 17, 2015
(3.5)I have no idea why everyone thinks nature is so benign and glorious and wonderful. All nature is trying to do is kill us as efficiently as possible.”

This offbeat novel about obsession, sex and inheritance is set in Kent in 2011 and stars an extended family of botanists. The concept of a family tree has a more than usually literal meaning here given the shared surname is Gardener and most members are named after plants. We have Great-Aunt Oleander, recently deceased; cousin Bryony and her children Holly and Ash; siblings Charlie and Clem (short for Clematis); and half-sister Fleur, who has taken over Oleander’s yoga center, Namaste House. The generation in between was virtually lost, perhaps to a plant-based drug overdose, on a seed collecting expedition to the South Pacific. Oleander has left each motherless child one of these possibly deadly seed pods.

Did I mention the book is saturated with sex? Incest, adultery, illegitimate children, S&M, Internet porn, you name it. But beyond that, the metaphorical language is highly sexualized – bursting with seeds, fertility and genital-like plants. I can’t think when I’ve encountered such oversexed vocabulary since D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers. Here’s a sampling:

Dave seems to be avoiding the clouds as he works the little plane up into the sky, penetrating it slowly, and really quite gently.

A surprising amount of plants look like dicks.

(of peat) It’s like walking on a giant’s pubes.

All lettuce wants is sex. And violence. Just like all plants. It wants to reproduce, and it wants to kill or damage its rivals so they don’t reproduce.

So many flowers are basically little sex booths.

And she was pulling him towards her, deeper into her, as if he were a flower and she an insect desperate for his cheap, sugary nectar.

Connections between characters morph and take on new dimensions as the book goes on. A few characters are unrealized, such as Fleur, which meant I felt slightly disconnected from them. (My ‘favorite’ in a book stuffed full of unlikable figures was probably Bryony, whose hunger for food, alcohol and shopping seems to be endless.) Likewise, not all the storylines are truly essential, so the book seems aimless for its final third; it definitely could have been shorter and tied together better, perhaps with some flashbacks to the previous generation’s experiences on the island to make the past feel more alive. The spiritual element remains vague, although there is a pleasant touch of magic realism along the way.

Despite these reservations, I truly enjoyed Thomas’s unusual writing. She moves freely between characters’ perspectives but also inserts odd second-person asides asking philosophical questions about wasted time and what is truly important in life. One peculiar little section even imagines the point-of-view of a robin in the garden of Namaste House, with made-up words fit for “The Jabberwocky”: “The man is, as always, incompt and untrig. He sloggers around his rooms in his black and grey ragtails like an elderly magpie.”

I like the range of questions you’re left with as a reader: Is nature malicious? Can we overcome our addictions? How much of who we are is down to our parentage? Does life really just come down to sex? The content of the novel might be reminiscent of A.S. Byatt and Andrea Barrett’s science-infused fiction or The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter, but the style is totally different. I can’t even think who it reminds me of; it feels pretty one of a kind to me. Luckily this is Thomas’s sixth novel, so there’s plenty more for me to explore.

I was delighted to win a free copy in a Goodreads giveaway.

(Originally published with images at my blog, Bookish Beck.)
Profile Image for Laura F-W.
191 reviews144 followers
June 15, 2015
--3.5 stars--Thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for a free ARC copy in return for an honest review--

Two things about this book:

1) I found it really engrossing and difficult to put down
2) There were lots of things about it which REALLY annoyed me (including the deeply disappointing ending)

The book follows members of a family dynasty as they come to terms with the loss of one of their matriarchs and try to navigate the various perils of middle-class 21st century existence. There is a broad an interesting cast of characters, including Bryony, an overweight and very unhappy middle-aged mother of two; Charlie, Bryony's cousin and a total womanising git; Beatrix, an ancient grandmother who plays the stockmarket like a pro; Holly, Bryony's 11-year-old anorexic daughter, and many more.

Annoying thing #1: Who's that again??

There was an AWFUL LOT going on in this book, and at times it was pretty confusing. First off, despite the inclusion of a family tree at the beginning of the book, I found it virtually impossible to figure out how everyone was related to everyone else. This isn't helped by the fact that the main three women in the middle generation of the family disappeared decades before the book was set, so a genealogical anchoring point is missing.

Annoying thing #2: Hopping around like a frog on speed

The book isn't divided into chapters, but instead small sections of very variable length. These are generally little vignettes from one of the characters' lives, but the book is also peppered with random excerpts from Eastern Philosophy, dialogue where you have to guess which characters are saying it, and two short bits written from the perspective of a bird which include words from some kind of 'bird language' (?!?!). Other people might like this, but I found the style infuriating at times.

Annoying thing #3: The brand names! It's like reading an ad break!

Brand names are EVERYWHERE. I know that the author probably did that to emphasise the theme of consumerism, but I found that the brand names, especially in Bryony's bits, prevented the text from flowing properly. To be fair, I did get used to it eventually but I found it really jarring at first.

Annoying thing #4: Sorry Miss, the dog ate my ending

This part of the review is mainly going to be hidden with spoiler tags, but here's an overview: the ending felt ridiculously rushed and there were more loose ends than on Ned Sherrin's CV.

Annoying thing #5: Character inconsistencies

Several times, I felt that the characters were behaving in ways that just didn't fit with their personalities. Again, I'll put most of this behind spoiler tags.

Great things #1: Bryony

I thought that the characterisation of Bryony was amazing, and was the main thing that made me want to keep reading. The chapter where she goes on a spending spree in Selfridge's is one of the best things I've read in a long time. It felt really vivid and was a great portrait of rampant consumerism.

I would have liked to have just read a more simple book about Bryony trying to deal with her personal demons, her family and 21st Century life.

Great thing #2: Mindfulness

I thought that the theme of mindfulness and Eastern philosophy contrasting with 21st Century life in the UK was brilliant. Each of the characters were struggling with problems caused by the individualistic, hedonistic and consumerist culture that we live in, and all of them would have hugely benefited from a good dose of mindfulness (Bryony, Ollie, Holly and Skye in particular). Ancient techniques of Buddhist meditation have now been rebranded as religiously-neutral mindfulness in the UK, and the practice is gaining ground. I thought that it was really refreshing to read a book which analysed this, but I'd have liked to have seen a more specific and detailed analysis as, again, I felt this was somewhat glossed over.

Great thing #3: Pace

Although I may not have sold this book very well throughout the rest of this review, I have to say that it was never boring. The pace was quick and kept you interested. Because of this I'd probably say that it was a good beach/holiday read.

Overall, this was an interesting book and Thomas is clearly a talented writer, but it often felt that she was trying to do way too much. The reader is only given glimpses of characters that they would like to learn more about. The fact that there were so many characters and I only got to spend a little time with each made me feel as if I didn't really care what happened to them in the end. The author clearly excels at characterisation and dialogue. By far the best things about the book were the little vignettes where you saw each character's thought processes. For me, I would have enjoyed reading about the characters themselves with less of a convoluted plot and less of the random fantasy elements that crept in towards the end.

One of the results of practising mindfulness regularly is that the mind becomes calmer, clearer and less busy. I feel as if this book, with it's frenetic pace and overly busy plot, could have done with a little mindfulness itself.
Profile Image for Brian.
Author 48 books144 followers
July 18, 2015
I loved The End Of Mr Y but Scarlett Thomas's latest novel has left me entirely cold. The story features a family of famous botanists, the older generation of which disappeared on a hunt for a miracle plant. The plot revolves around a series of moments in their lives after the death of the surviving family matriarch.

The trouble is, it's almost completely unreadable. There are umpteen characters and they're impossible to tell apart because they aren't properly described or differentiated. They're also deeply unpleasant and universally preoccupied with rather shabby sexual fantasies.

It's not a world I recognise or one I feel able to care about. None of these characters is even remotely like anyone I've ever met. They are, at best, ideas about people because this is, like all Scarlett Thomas's fiction, a novel about ideas – ideas about consciousness primarily.

I understand that Scarlett Thomas is trying to do something interesting with her writing and I applaud that. But, for me, there has to be something more to a book than verbal and conceptual experimentation.

There have to be characters who feel real; there has to be dialogue that is emotionally engaging; there has to be a plot that contains some element of drama. This book has none of that. It's trying way too hard to be clever.
Profile Image for Susan.
2,697 reviews594 followers
June 12, 2015
This book begins with the death of Great Aunt Oleander, who ran a retreat centre called Namaste House, mostly for celebrities. The members of this sprawling, secretive family, all take plant names if they do not keep the family name of Gardener. At the heart of the family secrets are Grace, Plum and the legendary Briar Rose, who disappeared on the trail of a miracle plant; deadly seed pods. Left behind are Fleur (daughter of Briar Rose), who must step into Great Aunt Oleander’s shoes, Bryony, whose botanist parents disappeared, documentary maker Clem, Clem’s brother, Charlie and their assorted partners and children, as well as members of Namaste House and a minor celebrity called Skye Turner.

I have long been an admirer of Scarlett Thomas and have enjoyed her books since she first wrote her Lily Pascale mysteries, many years ago now. However, I have to admit that I struggled with this novel. In this family, who frankly make the most dysfunctional seem normal, there are layers of secrets. Marriages are falling apart; there are eating disorders, alcoholism, infidelity, despair, and depression. In fact, it is hard to have any sympathy with the people who populate the pages of this novel. Several modern obsessions are pulled apart – materialism, consumerism, celebrity… However, the problem is that if you have no characters you sympathise with, you end up failing to connect with the novel itself.

Saying that, of course, as you would expect from Scarlett Thomas, this is beautifully written. It rambles through the lives of the main characters as they try to unravel the fate of their family and discover what happened on that voyage to hunt for the Deadly Seed Pods and what power they gave. From uncomfortable shopping trips to Selfridges, to even more uncomfortable train journeys, and on to the West Coast of Scotland, this book takes the Gardener family on a voyage of discovery. I applaud Scarlett Thomas for trying something different and original, but feel saddened that I personally did not really enjoy this book. Possibly, I need to come back to it another time and try it again. Lastly, I received a copy of this book from the publishers, via NetGalley, for review.

Profile Image for Anna.
1,741 reviews677 followers
June 25, 2017
Recently I read The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable by Amitav Ghosh, which asks why literary fiction has become so fixated on human relationships above all else that our relationship with nature, and specifically climate change, goes unexamined. Here is a classic case of a novel that could easily have engaged with the human-nature dynamic, in fact I assumed it would from the blurb, but instead largely dwelt on family melodrama and marital infidelity. Consequently I was disappointed by it. I enjoyed The End of Mr. Y very much, and Our Tragic Universe was pretty good too. Both were stranger and more distinctive than ‘The Seed Collectors’, which concerns an extended family called the Gardners. In fact, comparing the novels it seems as though Scarlett Thomas is now deliberately writing the sort of literary fiction that is taken seriously (marital infidelity amongst the upper middle class), to avoid relegation to the genre shelves (supernatural happenings). ‘The Seed Collectors’ does still contain some inexplicable, mystical stuff, however this is sidelined, almost as if the narrative is embarrassed by it. I found this frustrating, as it was the plants and mysticism around them that made it interesting. In my view, the three vanished botanists should have been central to the plot, rather than occasionally referenced. It takes two hundred pages for there even to be a proper conversation about them.

Instead, the family lives of Clem, Ollie, Bryony, and James are chronicled exhaustively with a tedious level of detail. They’re all very well off and so have wealthy people problems, as well as the siren call of extramarital affairs. Which I am SO TIRED of in fiction. Apologies for the capital letters, but I can only assume that many people write novels because they are fantasising about having an affair. Perhaps in future these writers should consider confining such fantasies to their heads and writing something, anything, else. All these fictional affairs are the same, they're dull, and I don’t care about them except to pity the kids. (Indeed, I found Holly by far the most sympathetic character in the book.) In this particular case, the various affairs also didn’t really mesh with the mystical, vaguely philosophical interludes. The chapters from the point of view of a robin, for example, were quite brilliant. The rich people problems, however, would have benefited from considerable editing. Bryony’s shopping trip in some fancy London department store (probably Selfridges but who cares) was a notably annoying extended sequence. She wastes a vast amount of money, eats a vast amount of food, and drinks a vast amount of alcohol. I assume it’s meant to be distasteful, but it lacks context and meaning in the narrative. The reader never finds out why Bryony behaves like this. Although quite a bit of the book is from her perspective, the more minor characters actually seemed more vivid. I also recall a scene in which Ollie (or was it James?) complains about the effort of dividing up his dirty washing into normal and delicates for the cleaner to wash for him. My instinctive response to this was, ‘You will be first up against the wall when the revolution comes, pal.’

In short, this is a novel in which family melodrama unfortunately crowds out all the far more interesting elements. It could have been about how different generations of the Gardner family felt about and interacted with plants. It could have been about the mystery of three missing botanists and the colonialist subtext of their pursuit of new drugs from isolated tribes. It could have been about the plants, birds, and animals themselves, with the family on the sidelines. Sadly it wasn’t. I hesitated between two and three stars, as it did keep me reading (although I will read practically anything) and there were one or two powerful moments. I decided on two stars in the end because, a) there was so much unrealised potential here, and b) I disliked all the main characters so much. They were utterly self-absorbed, mean to others, consumerist, over-privileged, and self-indulgent. This is not to say that I only want to read about paragons, but I don’t like it when such unpleasant people’s trivial, selfish problems are treated as incredibly important. It made the narrative thematically contradictory, given the interludes about enlightenment and oneness, and left a bad taste in my mouth.
Profile Image for Judy.
1,710 reviews295 followers
July 27, 2016
I think perhaps Scarlett Thomas is not for everyone but she is definitely for me! A few years ago I read Our Tragic Universe and fell in love.

Five generations of the Gardener family, botanists and spiritual seekers, are harboring some tragedy and many secrets. When Great Aunt Oleander, of the second generation, dies and leaves a rare and precious seed pod to each of her descendants, the family begins to fracture. Not that there was a lack of trouble while Oleander lived, but as we know from many novels, inheritance can be a sticky thing.

For the remaining Gardeners, old tragedy and secrets start coming out. Not one of the marriages in the third and fourth generation is particularly happy. An infidelity produced Fleur, but strangely she has inherited the bulk of Oleander's property and wealth. Fleur loves Charles but he is her half-brother and therefore forbidden. And so on.

Both the glue that holds these family members together and the weakness that keeps them from fitting in with the rest of the world is an old-fashioned quest for enlightenment. The seed pods possibly contain the answer but also might possibly bring about the enlightening by killing anyone who ingests them.

By the time I reached the end I had met wondrously weird characters, made some sense of the convoluted family connections, and was hit with my own enlightenment. The whole novel is a spoof on people, whether they be rich, talented, famous, or just ordinary, who seek love and answers to life.

It made me a little uncomfortable because I have sought those answers with a stubborn tenacity all my life, though at this point am pretty sure that it is all a con, that life is random, so you make the best of it.

Still, what an entertaining way to be made uncomfortable!
Profile Image for T.D. Whittle.
Author 3 books190 followers
January 11, 2020
As another reviewer, Judy, has said: "I think perhaps Scarlett Thomas is not for everyone but she is definitely for me!" To that I say, "Me, too!" The Seed Collectors is full of characters that make you laugh and cringe and almost toss your book across the room (if one were the sort of reader who can bear to toss books across rooms, which I am not). I won't bother with a synopsis because you can read that at the top of the Goodreads page, but I will say what works for me about this book and about Thomas' writing generally.

The metaphor of flowering plants as flagrantly sexual, voracious survivors who struggle endlessly and ruthlessly in their competition for food, sex, and sunlight is brilliantly played out from the opening pages until the end of the novel. Thomas' writing, as always, is gorgeous.

Pretty much all of the characters are hard work but we readers are empathic types and also, as a retired therapist, I am used to seeking connection with damaged people. I believe we are all, to some degree, damaged people. Rather than whipping out my smart phone to film a drowning person, I am inclined to look for a vine to toss them. The thing about these characters is that they could all use that vine! They are surely drowning, not waving. Every single one of them is motivated by desperate fear: loss of social status, impending failure, obscurity, meaninglessness, lovelessness, sexlessness. In short, they are scared of falling through the cracks of life. But since they are upper middle-class, over privileged white folks, seemingly indifferent to the suffering of others, they do not readily present as a group in need of pity. Why should we care about these arseholes?

Well, as a reader, I felt I had to make a choice: either to recognise that the Gardner's and Croft's terrors are familiar to me and that I often cope in maladaptive ways too; or, to write them all off as horrible people totally unlike myself. But really, I am aware that even when I toss out a vine to a drowning stranger, I am doing it as much for myself as for the stranger. And I am aware that for every good and generous thought I have about a friend (and I have many because I love my friends), I have plenty of ungenerous thoughts about people who are rude to me at the grocery store or who cut me off on the highway. But these are petty first world problems, right? Absolutely. But this surface that we dance across every day is like cracking ice across a very deep, very dark lake and we all know this. Everything is at stake, every moment of our lives. It doesn't take all that much to fall through the cracks, as many of these characters learn by the book's end. We can't breathe down there in that cold viscous water.

I love the way Thomas drops us into these characters' lives and allows us to accompany them through their days and nights and make of them what we will. And look, it's grim. We are inside their heads, basically, and it's mean and messy in there. Of all the family members―Gardeners and Crofts―Fleur (the inheritor and manager of Namaste House) is perhaps the gentlest one, who at least tries to be kind and helpful to others, but even she fails most of the time to live up to her own standards. All of the characters, in their heads, are constantly criticising and belittling everyone around them, whilst trying desperately to convince themselves they are better and more deserving than they truly believe themselves to be.

It's not all bleak though. Thomas, as always, is very funny. Also, I had enormous sympathy for Bryony, Charlie, Clem, and Fleur who would obviously have difficulties in their adult lives due to their parents having mysteriously disappeared from the face of the Earth when they were young. To their credit, they all do the best they can to keep going and make the most of life. But, in my experience, it would be natural for people who have been through such events to develop chronic, trauma-related problems with intimacy, especially, and pretty much every aspect of life.

I am of a philosophical bent. I am exactly that type of person who will sit down with you under the stars, open a bottle of red, and converse about life, the Universe, and everything until we drop off to sleep. Thomas would be a great friend to do this with, I believe. So, I have sympathy for her characters sadly staggering jabs at "enlightenment". It turns out, though, that A Course in Miracles, Paul Coelho, New Age retreats complete with angel motifs, and everything to do with Namaste house is not the path to ultimate joy. If one cannot find salvation through consumerism and pop-culture religions, then perhaps reading a magic book and ingesting magic beans are worth a try!

How you view Thomas' characters' philosophical and theological positions in The Seed Collectors will probably depend largely on your own views. While I was trained myself in postmodern theory and find it still to be invaluable in many ways, I have often come up hard and fast against its limits when working in therapy. So, where I once embraced it as a panacea for all that ails us, I now know better. Also while I find the spiritual question of "did we invent the universe or did it invent us?" interesting as a thought experiment, I don't believe in it. I don't adhere to any human-centric view that says our thoughts have created and sustain Reality (with a capital R) right down to establishing the physical principles of the Universe. I don't hold to the core of Buddhism, either, which ultimately teaches that all of life is an illusion. Nevertheless, I love the questions Thomas gives her characters to struggle with. This is integral to all of her novels that I have read. I don't feel that I have to come up with the same answers, or with any answers at all, in order to enjoy the experience of reading about them.

Now, pass me those magic beans! Tonight, I fly!
Profile Image for Maya Panika.
Author 1 book70 followers
June 2, 2015
This is Scarlett Thomas’ best novel yet. The Seed Collectors is compulsively readable, tremendously enjoyable, a more natural read than her previous works. The mystical-physics meshes more naturally with life as we know it than in her previous novels. The quantum, the mystical, the magical is still there, in the forms of a rare, deadly poisonous seed pod that brings instant enlightenment and/or death, even to birds, a strange book that changes to fit the circumstances of whoever is reading it, a little bit of time physics and even a dash of the Law of Attraction – but this time she has woven it all into a tale of dysfunctional families linked by blood and botany, their obsessions and passions and everyday madness. There’s alcoholism, anorexia, all manner of mania with food and plants, sex, shopping, tennis. These are real lives in a believable landscape, populated with pretty horrible people - people for whom an hour’s wait for a ferry with no mobile signal is an insurmountable disaster – but real people, people we all know. The tears of the enlightened made me think a little bit of Vince Noir and the tears of Robert Smith; it made me giggle a bit, but there is a lot of humour here. I especially enjoyed poor overweight Bryony, on being told she needs to eat more carbs, brown rice and wholewheat pasta, to lose weight, rushing out to buy a large bar of milk chocolate, a six-pack of jam doughnuts, a family bag of crisps – and some wholewheat pasta. Scarlett Thomas still has a wonderful descriptive power – if nothing else, read The Seed Collectors for the gorgeous writing.
'The doorway to Fleur’s cottage smells of lapsang souchong, black cardamom and roses, which is a bit how Fleur herself smells, although with Fleur there are layers and layers of scents, each one more rare and strange than the last...'
'He frightens her, with his slightly cold eyes and the new flashes of silver electrifying his hair and his stubble… they both still go to their hairdresser in Shoreditch who gives them jagged, asymmetrical cuts that somehow emphasise their wisdom , rather than age.'
'…he finally knows what real love is. He has left his body behind but calls on his lips, or the great lips of the universe, for just this one final kiss. Who with? Time moves so oddly in this barely-there place with its clocks faintly ticking…'

Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews159k followers
May 11, 2016
It sounds like a strange thing to say out loud, but I felt really grown up while reading this book. It’s a fantastic, weird novel about love, sex, yoga, botany, and more. The characters say and do questionable (sometimes even unacceptable) things – I yelled out loud at them more than once – but they always do what feels real to them, and that human side is what makes book tick. It’s truly an original delight.

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Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,713 reviews25k followers
May 15, 2016
An oddball of a book. Aunt Oleander dies, and the family come together to reminisce. Close family members are bequeathed a seed pod with family secrets. It seems to be about so much - inheritance, horticulture, sex and family and societal dysfunctionality. There are facts about plants and it is fascinating to see the world through the perspective of plants. This is a strange book with obnoxious characters, interspersed with the odd philosophical ruminations, and a disjointed narrative. Uncertain whether I liked it, perhaps I am not in the right place to get the most out of this book at the moment. Possibility that I may return to it later. Thanks to Canongate for an ARC.
Profile Image for Trin.
1,845 reviews567 followers
August 26, 2020
I really liked, or at least admired the energy of, many of Scarlett Thomas' earlier novels, but this book is just--

Eating disorders!
Unlikeable characters!
Scattershot narrative!
Dropped plotlines!
Rape fantasies!
Unexamined racism!
Just so much incest, oh my god!

Anyway, I do not like any of these things and I did not like this book.
Profile Image for Cat.
848 reviews127 followers
April 21, 2016
Do you know when a character in a story is so horrible you can't even bother with what happens to her, or him, in the end? Now imagine that all the characters in a book are horrible. What's more, that story doesn't actually have a plot, but is a jumble of ideas, and thoughts, and views, of said horrible characters.

That's what The Seed Collectors was to me. There was not one single character I could like, or, at least, warm up to. I never thought this was even possible. Ok, so I don't like characters that are too good (to be true), that are perfect. I mean, it's not realistic, right? But I-don't-know-how-many characters that are all bad, without even a little something that is likeable? Not realistic as well.

Ok, maybe not all the characters were that horrible (they were "just" too nasty to be true) and the book wasn't all that impossible to read. The beginning, yes, was complicated. I felt like someone dumped me on these character's lives without a briefing. The characters' info-dump was overwhelming and, worse, every character that came next seemed worse than the previous one. I really struggled through the beginning and much regretted having purchased of this book. (Yes, I read The End of Mr Y, which I don't even remember if I enjoyed it, and thought this one would be a great idea. Also, there's a chance the book's cover played a part in having picked it from the book store.)

Then, there was this weird moment when I caught myself heartily laughing with some parts. It was a surprise because I was not enjoying this read, and I think that laughing help getting through the book. Thus, the two-star rating (for a long time I was keen on giving this book only one star).

The Seed Collectors is a story about this family (in which all the members are extremely unlikeable, which makes them completely unrealistic -- like, who are these people, and from where did they come from?) and the events that take place after the death of one of their eldest members. All of them (except spouses) have plant, or plant-related, names, and there is a mystery concerning the third generation, whose members disappeared after visiting a faraway island (called 'Lost Island') while searching for this plant known to be a source of a way to enlightenment. There are also some family secrets, that only served to accentuate how strange the characters were. There is also anorexia, tennis, addictions (to drinking and shopping), yoga, mindfulness, robins (that's it, birds) that think in a very human way... And way too much sex. Meaning, too much and very strange. Too unrealistic. And it made the other topics unimportant, by pushing them to the background.

I got the feeling Scarlett Thomas wanted to bring into the spotlight how exactly her characters were not good people, but individuals with a lot of flaws. Unfortunately, she did it in such a way, that, for me, the only thing she managed was a boring and uninteresting story. One that will will soon forget about.

I won't certainly recommend this book to anyone. Sorry, the cover is quite nice, but I cannot say the same about the contents.

Profile Image for Marc Nash.
Author 19 books357 followers
August 5, 2015
I don't know much about horticulture and plants, but I do know you can shape and constrict growth of bonsai trees and in a way although the book's central plant is an orchid, the shaping of a bonsai is to my mind the most illustrative metaphor I can come up with; for there is a family tree at the start of the book and then an amended one at its end when all the family secrets of paternity are finally out. So the family tree is reshaped free of all the constrictions borne by its members while they observed the proprieties and relationships suggested by the first family tree. And the liberating message of the book is derived from Mother Nature itself, but I won't spoil that for you.

In a way the characters are pretty unappealing, shagging and behaving like addicts or loafers throughout. There is an alcoholic shopaholic and her anorexic daughter. There is the serial philanderer and the weak stay-at home husband who writes newspaper columns about his domestic life. But I really enjoyed the little vignettes, snapshots and tableaus of these characters which are intermingled throughout the book. I didn't feel the need to look at any wider knitting together of their fate in the plot, I just enjoyed these small pieces in and of themselves.

The metaphors are good and my favourite I think was when Clem(entine) shows a young academic colleague how to manually pollinate a plant, for it's too much work for the plant to do it itself. That metaphor seemed to me to represent the shifting and shiftless nature of all the relationships in the book.
Profile Image for Jill.
425 reviews223 followers
August 20, 2017
Things I hate reading about:
- incest
- also incest
- whiny rich people who whine about money
- whiny rich people with ~status
- whiny rich people
- incest
- needlessly weird/fantastical elements
- disconnected & purposeless narratives
- bullshit philosophy
- incest

Scarlett Thomas is increasingly a hit/miss author for me. There were times I had to double-check the cover to be sure she had written this book -- the soft, sweeping, engaging worlds of The End of Mr Y and Our Tragic Universe are nowhere to be found in this muck. This reads weirdly self-indulgent, extremely petty, and endlessly frustrating -- this time, not in a good way. The redeeming features are Thomas' style & characterization -- she's good, man, but this is not. This is weird and rambling and depressing and completely disjointed. And she totally fucking lost me when Fleur and Skye sipped some enlightened tears and started flying. For no narrative reason. What the fuck.

Like I don't even really know what I just read w h a t

Profile Image for Ashley McCurry.
18 reviews
October 22, 2017
If I could give this zero stars, I would. This book does not fit the description given at all. I can't believe Neil Gaiman gave this a good review. Normally, there's at least one character you will like in a book. Or, at least the book has a plot. This book has neither. It's just disjointed ramblings that bounce between the "book" and the author speaking directly to you trying to sound insightful. There's no real story. It's just ramblings of an incestuous family.
Profile Image for Carole.
888 reviews12 followers
December 4, 2015
I gave up on Page 91, not something I do very often, but I couldn't bear to go on. Too much swearing, characters have no redeeming qualities and the plot didn't grab my attention at all.
Profile Image for Kate.
165 reviews46 followers
April 22, 2017
На 90% книги мне очень, очень хотелось, чтобы она не кончалась. Нормальный крепкий такой роман о всяких разных людях, я б и ещё столько же почитала про них. Бриония, конечно, моя любимица.
Profile Image for Rosaria Sgarlata.
411 reviews6 followers
August 15, 2016

Guardate attentamente questa cover e non ditemi che non vi solletica la mente. Non vi incuriosisce nemmeno un po'? Beh quando l'ho vista io, mesi or sono, ho deciso che sarebbe dovuto essere mio. E così è stato. Ho avuto l'opportunità di leggerlo in occasione di una delle tappe della Trivial Pursuit Reading Challenge ma ahimè anche in questo caso si è trattato solo di una bella cover.

Nella famiglia Gardener si ha l'usanza di chiamare figli e nipoti con nomi di piante. Così ci troviamo Oleander, morta da poco, Fleur, Plum, Briar Rose, Bryony, Holly, Ash, Clem... tutte persone affermate o che lo diventeranno. La zia appena morta lascia ad ognuno delle nipoti un baccello che dovrebbe svelare il mistero attorno alla sparizione delle madri di Fleur e Bryony, della zia Plum e dei rispettivi mariti.

Il romanzo è composto da soli quattro capitoli. Il più interessante sembrava il terzo, quello in cui si dovrebbe appunto capire cosa è successo alla spedizione di una parte della famiglia e la loro misteriosa scomparsa. Invece è un'accozzaglia di parole e paragrafi senza alcun senso. Ogni paragrafo sarà composto sì e no da 30 righe e ognuno di essi parla di un personaggio diverso. Una volta si tratta di Charlie, fratello di Fleur, e del suo fascino conquista donne. La volta dopo si tratta di Clem e il marito Ollie e i loro problemi di sterilità. La volta ancora dopo è la volta di Fleur e del suo amante segreto.

Ciò che accomuna tutti loro è solo la voglia di scopare con chicchessia, fratelli amici o cugini poco importa. E i baccelli che la zia Oleander ha lasciato alle nipoti? Se ne accenna appena e subito dopo ce ne si dimentica, per poi ritrovarli nelle ultime dieci pagine. Fleur eredita Namaste House, una specie di comunità dove le celebrità vanno, per i fan, a rilassarsi (ma in realtà si fanno scopare dai massaggiatori e dalle massaggiatrici).

Il messaggio segreto delle foglie in realtà non ha niente di segreto. Una delusione sia nella storia che nella sua stesura/traduzione. I personaggi poi sono di un patetico... Bryony è grassa ma non segue le diete che le vengono consigliate, la maggior parte delle volte è ubriaca e inaffidabile. Fleur è innamorata del fratello Charlie, con cui è andata a letto prima di scoprire che erano fratelli. Ora si trastulla con Pi, che però ha una moglie e una figlia, le sue fantasie sessuali includono lo stupro e il sesso anale... cosa che Charlie è ben felice di realizzarle.

Nail Gaiman dice:

«Incantevole, un romanzo che parla dell’autenticità del desiderio e del dolore. È uno dei romanzi più straordinari che io abbia letto. Un’assoluta delizia.»

E William Gibson sostiene:

«Una saga familiare sull'amore, l’eccentricità, il sesso, la spiritualità. Scarlett Thomas è una splendida scrittrice.»

Dove abbiano visto tutta questa bellezza in un romanzo simile, proprio non me lo so spiegare.

1 stella


Profile Image for Vonia.
611 reviews97 followers
May 1, 2019
The Seed Collectors (2016)
by Scarlett Thomas
Read: 4/3/18
Rating: 2.5/3

Overall, an interesting enough read from Scarlett Thomas, but not one of her best. Maybe biased due to general neutrality on some of the themes. Too much. Felt muddled. By the end, I felt I only barely knew any of the characters, and the ending left me feeling cheated.

The book is divided into 6 sections: Funeral --> Holly's Friendship Tree --> The Outer Hebrides --> Triathalon --> Fruit. I liked that these are bookended by a Family Tree Diagram, then a revised one. A saga of a story, it also resembles the spokes of a wheel. Each of the main characters in The Seed Collectors inherits a seed pod from a rare orchid, and this is the central hub from which each sub-story begins and ends.

General themes:
*Botany, particularly flowers. Specifically, that the difference between fauna and flora is less than we might believe.
*Family & Inheritance (Family Tree included, a generational saga)
* Enlightenment (defined as the ego, or knowledge; enlightenment is undoing Adam & Eve's discovery of the forbidden fruit, knowledge)
*Yoga, meditation, spiritual healing
*Magical Realism (fantasy dream worlds, elixirs)
*Obsession (everything from flowers to people; fauna to flora)
*Sex (BDSM, adultery, incest, illegitimate child, porn, and very erotic language, both literally and metaphorically to various degrees throughout the novel; there are entire passages focused on, for example, Byrony's "struggle" with internet pornography. Let me say right now, this is a very sexual book, where a stem will "penetrate" the soil.)
* Materialism; more specifically the rich, celebrities, technology (Byrony, overshopping; enlightenment can be seen as the opposite of it)

The Bad:
* Scarlett Thomas has done this before in her novels. Where she uses all these acronyms and expects the readers to either know them already or to look them up or otherwise figure it out. Not cool in my book.
* What is with the sometimes arbitrarily inserted all capitals words? It conveyed immaturity and cheapened what Thomas had written.
* Too many characters, sacrificing character depth. Did not feel very empathetic towards any characters. Found Byrony particularly aggravating with her alcoholism, materialism, but especially callousness in changing or how it affects her family.

The Good:
*Scarlett Thomas's greatest strength as a writer is her imagination. Sometimes she conveys that genius better than others. It is definitely visible here, albeit disorganized. Her fantasy worlds, ideas, and the creativity behind it all makes for an engaging read.
*She definitely knows her botany and the way it is ever-present throughout the entire novel, from the creative names to careers to trivia was both admirable and educational.

To Fleur, who is gathering love and inspirational quotes by Oleandar: "[All you have to do is find sayings by] Paulo Coelho"

For the next time I find a genie: “Somewhere in the world there is a magical book. What does this book do? It simply changes itself to become the book you most need at this point in your life.”

* Spoiler Alert *

* The ending. What the? Seems like a rushed tidy ending. Except it was not even tidy. We find out some family secrets (unintentional incest), Fleur commits suicide... Left unsatisfied.

#Africa #botany #Buddhism #familydrama #familysaga #secrets #suicide #magicalrealism #mystery
Profile Image for J.T. Wilson.
Author 10 books11 followers
December 27, 2015
So the kudzu plant is a vine-like plant which sprawls in all manner of directions and ultimately attempts to choke the nearest plants, depriving them of light and air in order to sprawl further. The kudzu plot, named after the plant, grows in many different ways at once, creating more and more narrative threads until the chance of them pulling together seems nigh-on impossible.

'The Seed Collectors' marks the first time Scarlett Thomas has written third-person narration since coming to national prominence with 'The End of Mr Y', but overreaches on the opportunity to develop multiple concurrent narratives. Too many plot lines go nowhere or achieve no conclusion, which would be okay except there's also no likeable characters. 'Our Tragic Universe' was an experiment in writing a novel with no plot; 'The Seed Collectors' is a novel with too many.

The thrust of the book revolves around a family whose great-aunt owns Namaste House, a groovy retreat for celebs to like totally understand themselves yeah, via yoga, meditation, the usual. When she dies, she leaves the place to Fleur, her apprentice, rather than her avaricious, selfish relatives Bryony (booze, shopping, food), Clem (documentaries, chillies, nascent lesbianism) and Charlie (botany, directionlessness, kinky sex). The relatives are instead given a lodge on the Isle of Jura (where the KLF burnt a million pounds; this is referenced) and a seed, which may, or may not, offer a clue to the ultimate fate of their vanished parents, who disappeared searching for a mysterious flower holding the key to enlightenment. Meanwhile, they prove less and less capable of maintaining any sort of coherence in their lives: bad news for spouses Ollie (lecturer, oafishness) and James (a Stepford husband), Namaste House mainstays Pi (an Indian writer, could be based on anyone...), Skye (a Pixie Lott-ish pop star) and The Prophet, and Bryony's children Holly (tennis, undereating) and Ash (who knows).

So what is all this about - what is the point? Horrible people do horrible things to each other? Indulging your id repeatedly is unsustainable? Be excellent to one another? While Thomas's books have always revolved around ideas, show-your-working research and puzzle box smart-arsery, there's usually been a coherent narrative or at least likeable characters accompanying it for the reader to hold onto as they tumble down the rabbit hole. 'The Seed Collectors' mostly expunges these elements, escalating the dreadfulness among an overabundance of characters. Sure, there aren't many likeable characters in 'Crime and Punishment' or 'The Great Gatsby' (I rated both five stars this year), but at least Raskolnikov and Gatsby were magnetic and doing interesting things with comprehensible outcomes. Not so here. To ape the style of the writing here: Scarlett, WTF?
Profile Image for Jo.
33 reviews3 followers
December 17, 2015
Simply the very best book I have read this year. And this was the year in which there were 2 new Margaret Atwoods to read and in which I finally read Life of Pi. Spellbindingly, thought-forcingly awesome.
Profile Image for Desmentera.
60 reviews4 followers
January 4, 2017
noioso ed inutile. Scarlett Thomas è sempre stata una delle mie autrici preferite, ho letto tutto quello che è stato tradotto in italiano. Questo potevo anche non leggerlo.
Profile Image for Marco.
347 reviews2 followers
December 29, 2016
Tra tutti i libri di Scarlett Thomas è quello più noioso e scialbo. pochi lampi in mezzo a un mare di parole.
Profile Image for David Harris.
914 reviews32 followers
June 22, 2015
I'm grateful to the publisher and author for letting me have advance copy of this book . I'd been anticipating it for ages - I think Scarlett Thomas blogged the title at least three years ago.

And the wait was worthwhile. While I would happily read a telephone directory authored by Thomas simply for the writing, "The Seed Collectors" is an extremely absorbing, readable book, funny in places, sad in places (sometimes the same ones). Above all it is perceptive, and deeply human.

The story moves between several different viewpoints, mostly members of the rambling Gardener family: Fleur, her lover Pi, Charlie, a botanist with an imaginative sex life, his colleagues Izzy and Nicola, botanist and filmmaker Clem and Skye Turner, a pop star who has risen from humble origins, alcoholic (but coping... kind of...) Bryony and her troubled daughter. These are distinct voices, but the twists of the plot, and the way the characters interact, means that while sometimes it's clear who is speaking, often it isn't (at least, till you catch the rhythm of the novel and see what she's doing) and there are sections in other voices altogether and parts which read as disembodied commentary (commentary, not narration: for example "Somewhere in the world there is a magical book..." or "Imagine one day... who were you, before you forgot"). These might be fragments of the narratives referred to in the book, or the observations of someone else, not in the story: it isn't clear, but the effect is one of layering, perhaps as in a painting, intensifying the reality of the characters even while distancing the text from them. There are even parts in the voice of a garden robin (I know, I know - but really, it's not twee at all, rather it is intense, conveying a realistic personality without any hint of a pseudo "person". )

It's not all "voices". There are letters and other texts and a (long, long) list of essential characteristics for a girlfriend, written, clearly, by an adolescent male and stuffed with pomposity and misogyny and contradiction - but which is then almost heartstopping when it concludes "44. Understands what it is like to lose mother". That is something Thomas does so well in this book - turning the mood of a passage on a sixpence with writing that is sharp, electric, absolutely on the button, often when observing flailing, failing relationships. Another example is the bald statement that Fleur was no bother as a child to her father - because he didn't admit she was his daughter. Or there the description of Holly, Bryony's awkward daughter, as another of her mother's failed projects.

Thomas will follow a shopping trip, a university seminar or a meal in a restaurant, sometimes digressing for several pages to tell us about walking palm trees, tennis tactics, yoga or the failure mode of the Smartguide tooth cleaning helper. But there's always something there, some bit of distracted thought or compulsive behaviour that illustrates a character better than pages of dialgue would. That, combined with the changing viewpoints, the wide assembly of characters and the uncertainty over who's speaking means there isn't such an obvious plot as in some of Thomas's earlier books. Consequently "The Seed Collectors" has a more diffuse air than they do which may not be to everyone's taste - for myself, I loved it: done well, that kind of digressive, sprawling story just takes root in the mind and grows, almost as thought it weren't actually written at all.

This book is done well: the stems have been pruned and carefully trained. What's presented - however much at times it appears incidental - is essential, giving hints about the characters and about the relationships between them, actual and emotional. And despite what I wrote above, there is plot. I said it was diffuse, and that's how it starts, but it becomes clearer: there's almost something holographic about the book, the whole story runs through every moment but the more of it you read, the sharper it becomes. A great deal does happen in this book and has happened - only it isn't described as it happens. We see instead the impact, the ripples, and like a hologram, when you look at those the right way the events come into focus and jump out at you.

Most immediately, at the start of the book the funeral has just taken place of a central character - Oleander, who established Namaste House, a retreat centre with overtones of Eastern mysticism, which Fleur takes over. Oleander's funeral isn't described, instead we see members of the extended Gardener family afterwards, like fragments of debris after an explosion. Similarly, there has been a bequest of rare (poisonous, exotic, perhaps magical, it's never quite clear) seed pods to family members, but this is never directly stated nor is it explained.until much later. Even then, it's far from clear exactly what was inherited: these seeds may not all be same. The terms of Oleander's will are only heard indirectly from a telephone conversation and so only described at second hand. Oleander herself never features either - instead we're given some sideways insight about her. For example, Pi claims that "Imagine you are a squirrel" is the kind of thing she might have said - but this is immediately followed by the narrator/ commentator (perhaps this is Oleander, somehow?) picking up the sentence and meditating on a squirrel's life. Then there are the references to the "prophet" who lives at Namaste House, and who is clearly an important part of the setup - but it's as though knowledge is assumed: nothing is explained. Thomas is though so good at describing one thing through its impact on another, that pretty soon we think we know what's what. So as we see how Namaste House runs and how Fleur regards it, we're nodding along, thinking, ah yes, the Prophet, just like him, that.

The central, defining event of the book is very much part of this pattern, something that happened years before and which isn't described until a fair way into the story (and then at second hand, and who can you really trust to tell you the truth in a book like this?) when three members of the family vanished searching for those seed pods. This is I think the root of all that happens: children are left coping (badly) with loss, and not knowing what happened, setting of trains of events down (and across) the generations. There's a lot of low self-worth, leading to overeating and compulsive behaviour: drinking, eating, shopping, sex. Grandchildren pick up the vibes and go adrift. But it's all protectively, fiercely, managed in a very English middle-class way - that indirectness again, not stating what's right in front of you but hinting, assuming, coping.

A lot of this seems to fall on Bryony, who is an alcoholic - in a fearfully knowledgeable way, as though the fact that the wine she has waiting for is her is good wine, named wine that cost £30 a bottle, means she is, really, in control - and compulsive shopper (ditto: she knows all the brands, but she has an "e-Bay room" full of stuff she bought and has no use or desire for - shopping is, as Thomas says, like a drug in its effects). Thomas is really good at describing Bryony's relationship with food, her mind an endless fight between the intention to diet and the overwhelming will to eat, crystallised in a stream of thought that's half guilt, half justification, as well as her shopping: "Bryony has taken off and is now moving around the display of handbags like a large tornado moves around the east coast of the USA. She's only about seventy per cent predictable, and could arrive anywhere without warning..."

Bryony is a magnificent creation, sympathetic and horrible at the same time. However, this entire family seems pretty dysfunctional. While a lot of what they're going through might attract the hashtag #firstworldproblems - they're all fairly well off, nobody is homeless or even poor (in contrast with most of Thomas's earlier protagonists) - they seem oddly unfit to actually cope with the pressures of the modern world. Bryony even has trouble working a telephone at one point. Others take refuge in syncretistic mysticism or food faddism (Charlie - when he's not having or imagining weird sex).

This inability to cope isn't limited to the Gardners. The main non family member who features, Skye Turner, is a pop singer struggling with fame and money who comes into their orbit after having a You-Tubed meltdown on a train. Skye shows symptoms of the same malaise. When she and Fleur take off for the Hebrides (the family has inherited a remote hunting lodge from Oleander) Thomas has a gentle dig at their Ab Fab lifestyle - Skye and Fleur are sitting by the emergency exit, the very worst people imaginable to have control of it, ...these lipsticked, ponytailed disasters...")

So, the Gardeners stumble through their lives, getting a few things right but a lot wrong, learning something - but not everything - about that disappearance. There's a suggestion of an enlightenment there, for some of them, but it's not I think a central thing - when that blessed state is reached (or not) Thomas in effect takes a device that other writers might base a whole story round, picks it up, examines it, then simply puts it to one side and gets on with the book. Like so much else we're left to speculate about what actually happened, based on the impacts. It's nothing like a tidy or happy ending, but it is though very entertaining getting to that untidy ending, and there is some brilliant writing too - I'll just quote one more example: Bryony, standing picking sunflowers for her husband observes that they "stand in the field like a row of Marilyn Monroes..."

That's exactly right, isn't it? Something I never saw before.

So maybe there is some enlightenment in here, after all.

This is, for me, far and away the best book I've read this year, and the best I expect to read for a long time.
Profile Image for Steffi ~mereadingbooks~.
216 reviews72 followers
June 10, 2015

[This is just me trying to make sense of what I read. If you want to know what this book is about you probably won’t get much out of my review. Sorry.]

This is going to be a tough one. I love Scarlett Thomas’ style. The way she can make a narrative run along so smoothly you don’t even notice all the information she’s feeding you; the way she can make pages and pages of conversation so authentic and interesting. She regularly creates characters and scenes that simply speak to me and she always includes some kind of myth or mystical background story in her plot – making something interesting and weird out of something trivial or mundane.

These are the reasons I loved PopCo, The End of Mr. Y, and Our Tragic Universe. If you read these last three of her novels you will notice, however, how the magical, the mystical, the philosophical seems to become more and more important. And in some way The Seed Collectors takes this one step further. Our Tragic Universe was about the storyless story, TSC does no longer tell a story in the usual way. I will need to wait and see what the finished printed version of this looks like, but the ARC did not have any chapter titles and no indication as to which point of view was going to come next. It sometimes feels like there is no real structure but snippets of conversation and scenes are simply lined up one after the other without an obvious connection (apart from the relationship of the characters).
I’m not sure I’m making sense here and I still feel a bit confused about what I read but I think this novel is once again an experiment in storytelling.
The theme seems to be the evil of the human ego. The characters each have their vices and bad moments – you get everything from alcoholism to incest to egotism to violence. But this theme also includes that these vices are intrinsically human and all of the characters struggle with the darker parts of their personalities. The thing is – however bleak this may sound – that the dark parts are just that: parts of humanity.

This is not a feel-good-novel! But I think in the end I did like it, even though I was sceptical at first. This is different from Thomas’ former work but I think it actually lines up with the rest of her novels in taking her ideas one step further. I’m looking forward to the printed copy because I can’t shake the feeling that some structure was still missing from the ARC and that it might be the key to understanding this novel a bit better.
Profile Image for Venus Maneater.
584 reviews32 followers
February 13, 2017
I loved it! The first 200 pages or so (which sounds awefully long, but you're through it in no time at all) reads just like any other mystery/general fiction novel, but with lots and lots of different plants and a LOT of rich white people problems because there are just a LOT of people in this book. I used the family tree a few times to refresh my memories, but all of them kinda grow on you.
Anyways, because there are a million characters, there is also a lot of (good) food, (mediocre) sex and ugly thoughts, because all these characters are like the many plants Thomas' often mentions; pretty and perfect on the outside, but poisonous and (sometimes) hapaxanthic.

So you're 200 pages in and right when you're comfortably settled with this book -Wikipedia and Google Image Search close at hand- Thomas puts her hands on your shoulder, holds you tight and says; "I write FANTASY!" after which she pushes you into a magical greenhouse that only grows the most psychedelic of plants. I love plants and getting high and also Scarlett Thomas, so I LOVED this part, but I can totally imagine some people noped out.

All in all it's a solid 5* rating, but again; I really dig plants, folklore, mind expanding drugs and the rhythm of Thomas' writing.

If you dislike Rich White People with First World Problems (even though they kinda get what they all deserve, but still) and/or get triggered by eating disorders and alcoholism, you should skip this one. Go and read The End of Mr. Y.
Profile Image for Margot.
176 reviews21 followers
April 28, 2017
I have such mixed feelings about this book... First of all the cover and the blurb got me super exited to read this book so I had pretty high expectations upon starting it. Then, from the first twenty or so pages I read I figured out that this book was, sadly, not going to be very enjoyable for me. It then took me another 50 pages to find out exactly what was bothering me, but in the end I found out.

What was bothering me so much about this novel were the characters. All characters, I feel, were types and thus felt very 'flat'. I feel nearly all characters can be described in one sentence and this is continued throughout the novel, making most of their actions very predictable. Furthermore it was rather annoying to read passage after passage from a character that is basically repeating him/herself over and over again.

I expected a novel of the type that David Mitchell so skillfully writes; Interesting characters that are thought-through and a story that engages the reader whilst also teaching them a valuable lesson -- that does NOT feel forced. The spiritual life lessons that were included in this novel felt very forced and discouraged me in a sense..

So, I liked the idea, I liked the basic outline of the story and plot, but the execution of it could have been different which would have definitely increased the enjoyment that I experienced from this novel.
Profile Image for Drew.
1,569 reviews507 followers
January 8, 2017
6 out of 5.

Echoes of Edward St. Aubyn mixed with Shirley Jackson - culminating in a modern-day Virginia Woolf. Her experimentations in form and content, her pursuit of narrative authenticity, her relentless desire to explore and imagine (without providing answers) make her one of the few unique authors working today; there's nobody out there like Scarlett Thomas. This is her best novel yet, and it's a damned shame that US audiences are, quite likely, missing it. It was one of my absolutely favorite reads of 2016 (coming in under the wire, I'm almost ashamed to say) and it'll be my mission in 2017 to put Thomas into more readers' hands.
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