Review: The Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick

growing season.pngThe Premise (from NetGalley): Now anyone can have a baby.
With FullLife’s safe and affordable healthcare plan, why risk a natural birth?
Just choose the colour of your pouch and its accessories.
Without the pouch, Eva might not have been born. And yet she has sacrificed her career, and maybe even her relationship, campaigning against FullLife’s biotech baby pouches. Despite her efforts, everyone prefers a world where women are liberated from danger and constraint and all can share the joy of childbearing. Perhaps FullLife has helped transform society for the better? But just as Eva decides to accept this, she discovers that something strange is happening at FullLife.
Piotr hasn’t seen Eva in years. Not since their life together dissolved in tragedy. But Piotr’s a journalist who has also uncovered something sinister about FullLife. What drove him and Eva apart may just bring them back together, as they search for the truth behind FullLife’s closed doors, and face a truth of their own.

Thoughts: The Growing Season presents its reader with a really interesting premise; what would the consequences be if pregnancy took place outside of the womb? Women would no longer suffer the risks associated with pregnancy and childbirth; a greater sense of equality could be achieved in relationships and workplaces. At least those seem to be the justifications for the large-scale adoption of pouches as a means of producing children in The Growing Season.

The novel follows a range of people involved in the process. A mysterious character writes to an old friend from a secluded lighthouse, seemingly ashamed by their role in the creation of the pouches. Holly, the first woman ever to use one, awaits the pouch-birth of her great-grandchild. Piotr, a journalist, looks out for a scoop that will make his career, while his ex-partner, Eva, also investigates FullLife and remembers her mother, who campaigned against the organisation before her death. There’s a lot going on, and it’s a little confusing to begin with, but the disparate strands do come together satisfyingly by the end.

The Growing Season made me think a lot about birth, babies and equality. It’s unclear in the book whether women became scared of childbirth and that’s why the pouches were invented, or whether they’ve become scared because of the availability of a simpler option. I am always really baffled when people romanticise natural childbirth as something magical and lovely; I’ve done it. It’s a biologically impressive means to an end; it’s not something I recall with great affection. But, equally, it’s not something to fear, so I found myself getting quite angry with the views of FullLife. I would also question whether such a system would really create gender equality; without pregnancy and childbirth, would women suddenly not be expected to perform the majority of childcare? I’m skeptical. But reading something that encourages the asking of so many big questions is a weird kind of treat; I finished The Growing Season with lots of questions about how realistic its premise is, as well as the implications within the book.

In Conclusion: a strange but compelling book, The Growing Season is worth reading. I think it was compared to The Handmaid’s Tale in a marketing email, which is why I requested a copy; it’s not actually anything like Atwood’s book, but it does raise questions about fertility and equality in intriguing ways.

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