Excerpt from The Seed Collectors by Scarlett Thomas, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Seed Collectors

by Scarlett Thomas

The Seed Collectors by Scarlett Thomas X
The Seed Collectors by Scarlett Thomas
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  • First Published:
    May 2016, 396 pages
    Apr 2017, 396 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Sharry Wright
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Print Excerpt

The Seed Collectors

Somewhere in the grounds of Namaste House, a pop star is loose. Not Paul McCartney, who evidently couldn't make it. It's only Skye Turner, nowhere near as famous as Paul McCartney of course but currently a respectable number 7 on the Top 40 compiled from iTunes and Spotify figures (but not YouTube, where she has yet to make her mark). She is not just loose but lost and alone in the white garden, which is not yet white. She has been to the house thousands of times but has never made it beyond the orangery and into the grounds. And now Oleander is gone. About half an hour ago Skye Turner saw a copper sculpture of a horse that she would like to buy. It was standing in the middle of something called the 'wildflower meadow', although there are no wildflowers yet. Would such a thing be for sale? You don't know unless you ask. But now she can't find it again. At first the sculpture horrified her: it was half horse, half skeleton. But now she would like to buy it. She would like to buy it, but she can't find it. And now Oleander is gone.

Who was Skye Turner crying for, at the funeral this morning? Was she crying for Oleander, who was old and had not been in much pain and in any case not only believed in reincarnation but did not want to be reincarnated, which is a win-win, really? Or was she crying for herself, for what she had lost? There's Fleur, of course, Fleur remains, but . . . Skye Turner sighs. Oleander was a mystical recording studio, and all the tapes that Skye Turner made there are now lost. Burned. Erased.

She walks through an old wooden door and finds herself in a small walled garden. In the centre of the garden is a stone plinth with another copper sculpture on it: a toad. Facing the sculpture is a moss-covered bench with a robin on it. The robin stops digging around in the moss and starts watching her. The dried remains of last year's poppies – even Skye Turner can recognise a poppy – are scattered around like faded decorations from a long-ago party. And there are green shoots everywhere. Things are growing, despite the cold. There is a faint smell of chamomile. She turns again and is no longer lost: there is Fleur's cottage, looking like something from a book, with its big, sleepy-eye windows and huge, sad door. Ivy beards it all over like a green man's face. And there's Charlie Gardener, the great-nephew, hovering. He is thin, angular, slightly wizard-like. A young, dark magician who might see her and chase her through the tangled forest where she would fall and . . . Skye Turner moves away, back towards the white garden, followed by the robin, who is singing something that sounds like, but can't be . . .

How exactly does a pop star come to be in the garden of a house on the very edge of England, in a slow, small medieval town that, long ago, was a busy port before the sea curled up like an old woman with no lover and became a tiny, shallow river with little boats and moorhens and samphire growing on its banks? You can take a helicopter, which is what the Beatles did all those years ago. You can land at the small airport a couple of miles away. But the more normal route is two trains and a taxi. It takes forever. On a map Sandwich looks close to London. It is in Kent, for goodness sake, a county that bleeds into London, is right next to it. But it takes Skye almost as long to get here as it takes to get to her parents' place in Devon, which is almost five counties from London, the way the train goes. From here to her parents' place in Devon it's roughly seven hours. And then there's Greg somewhere in the middle.

And now Oleander is gone.

Skye Turner walks on, through the small forest and around to a larger path lined with trees. From here she can see Namaste House: big, red, old; perhaps slightly wiser than the sad cottage next door? The large white door with the crescent-moon steps leading up to it. The orangery to the right. All the flowerbeds and kitchen gardens and greenhouses and the old brass sundial. There are flowers everywhere in this part of the garden. Skye Turner can't name most of them, but in the summer they are delicate purple things and fragile red things and trembling blue things and things that climb up without checking what the way down might be. Clinging to the side of the house is a plant that could be clematis, with large buds. And inside, she knows, through the white door, there will be the faint smell of chlorine from the indoor pool and the hum of the generator – or whatever the hell it is – that runs the sauna and steam rooms. The pale ceramic jugs of lemon water everywhere: alkaline, purifying. Curries for lunch. Wholemeal cakes. And then through the library and up some stairs and there she always was. Oleander, wearing something ridiculous – a robe covered with stars and planets once and a silver shell suit another time – with a sweet, deep warmth that was like something you'd drink if you were really ill, and of course Skye Turner was really ill when she first came here and . . .

Excerpted from The Seed Collectors by Scarlett Thomas. Copyright © 2016 by Scarlett Thomas. Excerpted by permission of Soft Skull Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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