Scarlett Thomas – The Seed Collectors (4 stars)

Thomas offers up a bitingly funny new novel about awful people

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Scarlett Thomas – The Seed Collectors

In The Seed Collectors, Scarlett Thomas uses the private life of killer plants to tell a very human story.

Following the death of Aunt Oleander, we meet the very tangled Gardener family, including 'paleo wanker' Charlie, filmmaker Clematis, secret sister Fleur and yummy-mummy Bryony. Fleur inherits Oleander's retreat, Namaste house, but the others are given only a seed pod. These look innocuous enough and could be a shortcut to enlightenment if ingested properly, but they could also kill you. Will anyone dare to find out?

Big ideas about enlightenment, reincarnation and the ego carry the book forward, but for such a high-minded novel, at its heart it's about messy human lives. Thomas juggles the narratives of multiple characters – each more self-obsessed than the last – with bitingly funny prose, but the overwhelmingly awful people make the book hard to digest at times.

The Seed Collectors is packed with difficult concepts and unlikeable characters, but Thomas' sharp writing and sharper wit provide enough to keep the book going. A clever, thought-provoking book about messy, self-obsessed plants – I mean, people.

Out on Thu 2 Jul, published by Canongate.

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