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The Growing Season: A Review

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The Growing Season, Helen Sedgwick’s second novel, does not set out to radically alter the reader’s world view. Its goal is neither to posit advances in medical science as something to be feared and abhorred; nor to euphorically postulate these advances as the inevitable, triumphant epitome of a species that has transcended itself.

The pouch has long been accepted as the best way to have children, as it allows adults to circumnavigate the plethora of biological, socio-economical, political, and religious issues that dictate natural birth.

In a world that recognises pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood as society’s cornerstone (not its inconvenient truth), the pouch is the perfect, perfectly safe, perfectly equal way to have a family. Its parent company, FullLife, appears open, honest, and genuinely passionate about its work, offering care plans and payment options to suit every circumstance.

By the time the novel begins, the wonder and marvel of the pouch’s technology has been relegated, much like a smartphone, to its novelty features. Pouches are no longer just life-givers (and life-savers), they are fashion accessories: celebrity endorsements, sensory inputs, and seasonal covers have become the way to guarantee your unborn child is up-to-date with the latest trends on their Birth Day.

Indeed, it is the advent of smartphones, and Sedgwick’s light, meticulous touch that makes the pouch so palatable. Twenty years ago, this novel would have seemed fantastical, futuristic, and fundamentally untenable. Now, with a generation rising behind us who have never known a world without the internet, we can easily, if uneasily, appreciate how such paradigm-shifting technology has been so seamlessly integrated into everyday life. Who, now, would go to the library before reaching for their phone? Who, then, could possibly choose a natural birth, with its inherent and varied risks, over the pouch?

This is the challenge faced by Avigail and her daughter Eva. Working against the common belief that the pouch is without fault (even when they themselves have benefitted from its invention), Eva is forced to shut down her mother’s campaign for answers and accountability because people simply do not want to know. That is, until an unusual media silence and a chance connection stir Eva’s suspicions, and compel her to finish what her mother started.

Sedgwick successfully navigates the complex and multifaceted intricacies of The Growing Season by refusing to sensationalize the characters and events of her story. There are no social avengers, determined to destroy life as we know it; no evil corporation hell-bent on treachery and malicious deceit; no star-crossed lovers who can only live and die in absolutes.  That is not to say the novel is without loss, heartache, and pain. But the circumstances are human, and so, it follows, are their consequences. Replete with human efforts and error, The Growing Season beautifully captures a paradoxical but fundamental truth: the knowledge that perfection is unattainable does not diminish the worthiness of its pursuit.

(Harvill Secker, 320 p. ISBN-13: 978-1911215950, £12.99: Published 7th September 2017)

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