This is a series of reviews of my favorite books published between 2010 and 2019.
Annihilation: Book 1 of the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer (2014)
An expedition of four unnamed female scientists ventures into the mysterious Area X, and bad things happen. I used to be a superfan of the TV show Lost until it broke my heart. If there was ever a book that does what Lost tried to do, and does it successfully, it is Annihilation. Area X, like the island, is a weird, unsettling, indefinable place where disquieting things happen that cannot be explained. Those who venture into it are irrevocably changed. The atmosphere in this book is thick and growing thicker. The reader is affected as well, drawn in alongside the biologist, whose journal we are reading, as she discovers that Area X is much different than she had been led to believe, while also gradually revealing the strange connection she has to the place. Though Annihilation doesn’t attempt to explain away its mysteries, it does show them to the reader, and pretty quickly too. We are not allowed neat and tidy explanations. Instead we see a person succumbing to the (otherworldly?) mystery that is Area X. Clearly, there is a sequel to read, but I was still satisfied with the ending of this book. This is, in my opinion, a horror novel, and it is very effective at building disquiet in the reader, as well as a sense that reality is fundamentally untrustworthy.
Authority: Book 2 of the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer (2014)
Authority introduces a new character, Control, who has taken over as director of the Southern Reach. This provides a different outside perspective on Area X, gives some more history, and sets up conspiracies within the Southern Reach and its governing agency, Central (a kind of Homeland Security quasi-legal organization). Not much is explained, just deepening mysteries and further connections established, plus quite a lot of weirdness going on at Southern Reach. It’s a bit slow-moving to begin with but the disquieting feeling continues and deepens. There’s this one part… Well, let’s just say I yelped when I read it.
Acceptance: Book 3 of the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer (2014)
The last book of the Southern Reach trilogy wraps everything up and explains all mysteries… um, no.
I guess I wasn’t really expecting it to, not with the weird tone and ambiguity having been set of the first two books. I both love and hate the ambiguity. Love it because I know I can return to this series again and find all new mysteries to ponder. Hate it because, well, it’s ambiguous! The final installment brings in two more points of view, in addition to the biologist (Ghost Bird) and Control: the psychiatrist and Saul, the lighthouse keeper. The psychiatrist fills in the gaps leading up to the twelfth expedition (the subject of the first book). Her parts open and close the book, and are written in second person, which I found mostly distracting, although I think toward the end it works, as “you” becomes not just the psychiatrist but all of us reading. The lighthouse keeper was by far my favorite character. He is there when the shit goes down, and his scenes are the scariest and most effective. I kind of wish he had gotten a whole book just to himself.
I rate my reading experience with these books very high. VanderMeer succeeds at creating a wonderfully weird world that the reader just falls into, like Alice down the rabbit hole.