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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Trying To Be Clever

The Seed Collectors - Scarlett Thomas

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.