cover image The Seed Collectors

The Seed Collectors

Scarlett Thomas. Counterpoint/Soft Skull (PGW, dist.), $26 (396p) ISBN 978-1-59376-646-7

Botany and human sexuality regularly intersect, stimulating the characters and the reader alike in Thomas’s (PopCo) newest. The story opens with a long and multilayered chapter set at the funeral of elderly Oleander Gardener, whose country estate in England, Namaste House, includes a large orangery. The childless Oleander has several nieces and nephews—Fleur, Clematis, Charles, Lavender, Plum, and Bryony—who catch up, share thoughts on the future, and argue at the funeral. Questions of inheritance and a mysterious seed pod that each of her heirs receives constitute the framework of a tenuous plot, but these are primarily MacGuffins. Fueled by intellectual curiosity and joie de vivre (as much Thomas’s as her characters’), the story fans out to the heirs, primarily Fleur and Bryony. Each views the world through a naturalist lens that echoes the deceased Oleander. Botanist Fleur has a discussion with a fellow passenger on an airplane, the topic of which veers from a Hebridean spotted orchid to Rihanna and Kate Moss. And Bryony, whose daughter, Holly, is experiencing the daily changes of puberty with wonder, sees human sexual parts nearly everywhere in plants. Ebullient prose, engaging characters, lively imagination, illuminating details—Thomas is an original, and her novel is consistently entertaining. (May)