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The Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick

The Growing Season

by Helen Sedgwick

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‘’But there’s more than right or wrong, don’t you think? Life is no so...so neat as that.’’

Helen Sedgwick has been on my radar for quite some time as her novel ‘’The Comet Seekers’’ has been waiting in my TBR with much patience, begging me to start reading. After deciding to ‘’meet’’ Sedgwick through ‘’ The Growing Season’’, I can only say that I’ve postponed it for too long. Without further ado, her new book is one of the most intriguing, fascinating, exciting Speculative Fiction (or perhaps, Alternative Reality) I've ever read.

The novel is a difficult one to handle, in terms of the various ethical and social dilemmas it chooses to bring to the spotlight. The central idea is the notion of ectogenesis, the pregnancy and birth outside the womb, with the means of a baby pouch, a sack, essentially, which becomes the shelter of the embryo until the time to meet the world comes. The pouch can be ‘’carried’’ -as it is- by men and women. Grandmothers can ‘’give birth’’ to their great-grandchildren and it seems that the idea of absolute equality and the avoidance of the risk and pain of natural birth are behind the development of the scheme. But what if the ethical, social, physical implications? This is for the readers to decide…

In this extraordinary (quite literally…) novel, we have four main points of view. Freida, one of the creators of FullLife, Holly, an elderly woman who became the first to ever use the pouch and who’s currently ‘’carrying’’ her granddaughter’s child. Eva, the daughter of Avigail who was a sworn enemy of the program and Piotr, a journalist, who was in a relationship with Eva a few years ago until a tragic event which caused a rift between them. So, Sedgwick gives us a complete, well-balanced view of the problematic and highlights the common bonds that bind these 4 very different people together. The need, the hunger for parenthood and the wish to right the wrongs, to find the truth. However, the sense of what is right and wrong isn't concrete and the characters clash and come together in equal proportions.

The themes that are communicated in Sedgwick’s book are complex and of extreme importance and relevance to our modern society. What truly consists the notion of parenthood? What if the danger that comes with giving birth is extinguished, but the potential threat of a world where women are looked upon as completely recyclable becomes apparent? Does one have the right to interfere with Nature if there’s no medical reason? I don't believe these are questions that can be relied on the spot and each one of us has a different notion of where our limits (if any...) as humans lie. This is what I really appreciated in this book. Sedgwick is never preachy or didactic. The way I understood it, she presents as many points for and against the program through her characters and allows us to think and attempt to make a decision. A good writer oughts to be objective and in my opinion, Sedgwick succeeded. Speaking strictly for me, I can say that I definitely shared Avigail’s anxieties and doubts.

Coming to technicalities, I found the writing to be almost impeccable. The purse is full of beautiful images and I read her descriptions of the Trans-Siberian route with nostalgia, while others are so powerful, harrowing, filled with pain and despair. There is loneliness, sadness, but there is also hope and love. We get different personal stories throughout the narrative which is enriched with the inclusion of audio and video logs. There were a couple of problems, though. The transitions from the present time to the past, from interactions to inner thoughts weren't very clear and proved quite confusing AT times, so this read requires your full attention. Also, I agree with Adina’s observations regarding a few open-ended issues. What went wrong with a number of the pouches? Why the need to resort to pouches instead of natural birth? It’s not fully explained, apart from a few personal convictions of the characters.

The cast of characters is very interesting and realistic,although not the most sympathetic people in the world. Eva was very strong, albeit a bit too thick-headed, Piotr was kind and considerate and sort of the layman's yes in the story. I really, really liked the dynamic between these two and I was deeply invested as to how their personal journey would end, equally to my wish to fnd the answers to the main mystery. Holly was a bit dogmatic and heavily misguided at times, Avigail and Freida were fascinating women standing at the two ends of the spectrum. Rosie I found to be insufferable, James and Kaz were indifferent.

So, this book is highly, highly recommended. Give it time and it will grow on you (pun not intended…), although I suspect you'll be hooked within the first couple of chapters. And as for me, I need to start reading ‘’’The Comet Seekers’’’as soon as possible. I think that ‘’The Growing Season’’ is a novel that will be talked about in years to come…

Many thanks to Penguin Random House UK and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange of an honest review. ( )
  AmaliaGavea | Jul 15, 2018 |
With FullLife’s service, women can finally get rid of all the negative aspects of pregnancy. No more sickness, no more pain during child birth and no more abstaining from alcohol and cigarettes and all the fun. And the best: the men can play a part, too! Simply use the pouch and have your baby cuddled in the perfect environment for 9 months. It does not take too long to convince the people that this is real evolution, the next step that makes mankind throw away the ballast and dangers connected to a pregnancy and child birth. And not to forget: this is how non-traditional families can finally fulfil their dream of having a baby. That’s what science is for, to lift mankind to a higher level, isn’t it? But progress normally also demands a price to be paid, it never goes for free. Up to now, however, only few people know how high the price really is.

Helen Sedgwick’s novel which is somewhere between Brave New World and The Handmaid’s Tale, raises a lot of questions. First of all, how far do we want to go for comfort and the fulfilment of our wishes. It only sounds too attractive to overcome all the negative side effects of being pregnant. And of course, the line of argumentation that now men and women are really equal since women cannot be reduced to reproduction anymore is also tempting at first. Second, we see scientists who – for different kinds of reason – act against their conscience and subordinate everything to alleged progress. Ethics cannot be ignored, undeniably, but sometimes there seems to be the time and space when you can sedate these thoughts and mute them in a way. Yet, quite naturally, this does not make the questions go away.

The novel tells the story from a very personal point of view which allows the severe topic to come across in a very human way with characters who have feelings and who suffer. In this way, you get involved in what they go through, the loss, the hopes, the fears. It does not provide easy answers to huge ethical dilemmas, but it adds some perspectives and reveals that quite often, there is much more than just black and white and that it is the different shades of grey which make it difficult for us to decide on the core questions of life. Lively characters portray this dilemma in a convincing way thus the novel can take it on with the great names of the genre. ( )
  miss.mesmerized | Sep 20, 2017 |
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What if anyone could have a baby? A thought-provoking and unforgettable novel from a rising star. Eva's work is over. After years campaigning against FullLife's new improved technology of childbirth she is resigning herself to failure. But why have FullLife suddenly started advertising natural birth again?… (more)

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