Friday, 24 April 2015

Seed, by Lisa Heathfield

Seed begins with Pearl, the protagonist and narrator, in a state of panic and shock, utterly convinced she is going to die from the blood she has discovered in her underwear. The reader understands from the very beginning that life for this character is very different from life as we experience it- and it's quite disorienting at first. This is only further reinforced when Elizabeth, an older woman, leads Pearl to a ceremonial hole in the ground where she is expected to spend the night trapped in the dark underground- so that nature may grant her a fertile womb during the first night of her first bleed. This night marks her transition from childhood to womanhood.

From there it's gradually revealed that Pearl lives in an isolated sort of nature-worshipping cult, presided over by the Holy particah Papa S. She and her fellow children have been raised communally and have no firm idea of who their natural mothers and fathers are- they don't go to school, but work in the fields growing and harvesting crops. There's no technology, no currency, no medicine. No influences from the outside world at all.

To begin with it all seems charmingly idyllic Pearl, Kate and Jack, the teenaged children spend hours roaming meadows, climbing trees and splashing in the lakes, looking after younger family members Ruby and Bobbie. The older women, Heather and Rachel prepare meals and sew skirts for sale. The men Kindred Smith and Kindred John tinker with engines and build things. They all eat and pray together, giving thanks to nature for her gifts, watched over by Papa S. It's all very self sufficient flower child Amish. Pearl seems genuinely happy and it seems that she is truly absorbed in her unusual religion- she overflows with love for Papa S and her family and hopes one day to become Papa S's 'companion'.

When a new family is accepted to Seed, things begin to change for Pearl. Ellis, the boy from the outside, is at first receptive to their way of life, pleased by the healing change that it has effected in his depressive mother. As his contentment dwindles, as an outsider, he can see Seed for what it truly is and the darkness at its centre. Ellis gradually chips away at Pearl's brainwashed mind and begins to make her understand that she has been manipulated- that there is a sinister heart to Seed that first she refuses to acknowledge but then can't ignore.

It's quite hard to read really- to see somebody that has been genuinely happy all her life to have her belief system, values and identity unravel and to realise that her happiness has been built on lies and manipulation. Once that veil is lifted then you can't go back. I really liked the character of Pearl; she was kind, honest and her love for nature is infectious- she's been raised well and she really appears to fit into the life that she leads. However, it's hard not to get just a little frustrated with her- for ignoring her instincts, for trying hard to please Papa S, for clinging on to Seed for as long as she can. The evidence of the evil in her family is there for so long and in such quantities and she's just too naive (or innocent, whichever) to be able to see what's in front of her. It's understandable though as it's all she's ever known, so it's her normal. It's impossible not to feel truly sorry for Kate. Slightly older than Pearl, she has been Papa S's 'companion'- she's been 'helping' the Kindreds in their rooms. She's got a defiance in her eyes that scares Pearl, but comforts the reader- there's a fighter amongst them after all. I'd like to see some narrative from her perspective in the next book.

Seed is an uncomfortable read with some genuinely dark themes- I think the reader begins to suspect Papa S's motives fairly quickly and is able to see the cult for what it is and it truly makes the skin crawl. Unsettling though it is, it's a gripping narrative that captivates the reader- the idea of this natural utopia being rotten to the core just makes the reader root for the growing rebellion. Heathfield handles her dark themes sensitively and with care, suggesting the horror to the reader but allowing the characters to gain strength and resolve from the ordeals they have endured- some willingly, some not so. Seed really effectively reveals the cult mentality- that it's easier to follow and to swallow your doubts than it is to make waves and think independently, to question.

The book maintains the suspense throughout the narrative as Pearl slowly adds up the little things, combining her questions with Ellis' answers. Overall, I really enjoyed it and found it to be a compelling and unique novel. I do feel that it ended quite quickly and without much of a resolution- there was a double twist at the end that I simply did not see coming that provides one last huge shock before the end- it changes the trajectory of what the reader expects from the sequel hugely and now there's just no telling where the story will go but I'm definitely intrigued to find out.

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