by Scarlett Thomas

4 stars

SeedThis 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…

Expected publication: July 2nd 2015 by Canongate