Helen Sedgwick’s plucky disregard for convention is inspirational. It shouldn’t work, this wide plethora of point-of-view-characters, it really shouldn’t, but she pulled it off in The Comet Seekers (a quirky and moving book with a huge cast which included many ghosts) and she does so again with The Growing Season.
Given her background in science and academia, The Growing Season makes sense. Many of the features we associate with Sedgwick are here – speculative depth of discussion, a thoughtful balancing of the arguments and themes of gender, feminism, passion, power, love, and loss all find a place in this tightly-knit narrative, which explores a fictional near future. In it, childbirth has been outsourced to technology – but convenience and (perceived) safety come at a price.
Despite the many perspectives included in the story, certain voices resonate much more than others, almost certainly intentionally. Eva, for example, is deeply sceptical of “the pouch”, the artificial external womb in which the unborn life can be carried by men and women alike. As a result, society’s gender roles have become much more fluid than we know them. Eva is a likeable character, but a passionate activist, awkward, edgy, and interesting. (She has spikey hair. Of course she has!). Holly, on the other hand, is the ageing poster-girl for the new pouch technology, trying to make sense, for the first time, of failure and loss. There is the hermit inventor in self-imposed exile in her Scottish lighthouse, the disillusioned scientist agonising whether to prioritise stability or truth, the journalist. And many, many more.
And yet, there are enough questions to propel the reader forward, enough of a plot to keep pages turning and turning again, enough mystery to drive on until the final page – which, incidentally, resists the temptation to offer glib answers.
The Growing Season offers a provocative yet gentle shake-up of the status quo. In real terms, the technology in Sedgwick’s fictional work is almost attainable already. Not far-fetched but deeply topical, it is a scientist’s novel with a very light touch, which rendered the book accessible and appealing to this non-scientist reviewer. Many voices, many questions, many possibilities, passions and paths.
Memorable in every way.
Catch Helen Sedgwick at Book Week Scotland Events:
• Waterstones, Union Street, Aberdeen, 28th November, free but ticketed,
• Waterstones Inverness, 30th November, 18.30, free, unticketed.