Book Review: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror
Series: Book 1 of Southern Reach
Publisher: FSG Originals (February 4, 2014)
Author Information: Website | Twitter
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
This is the first time I’ve ever read anything by Jeff VanderMeer, and I’ll admit at first I had my misgivings. I’d picked up this book because of the great things I’ve heard about it, and also because the premise sounded fascinating. However, VanderMeer is also best known for his contributions to “New Weird”, a literary genre that’s been hit or miss with me – but mostly miss. Still, I looked at the modest page count of Annihilation and figured, what the hey. Even if it didn’t tickle my fancy, at least it would be a quick read.
Man, and am I glad I gave this one a shot.
Yes, the story is weird and a bit surreal – two descriptive terms for a book that would normally make me take off for the hills – but what I didn’t expect was how thoroughly atmospheric and intense it was. If Annihilation were to be made into a movie (actually, I believe that’s already in the plans), my dream director for it would be Ridley Scott because I think his particular approach would be perfect for the overall tone and visual requirements of this novel. It’s got those Alien or Prometheus vibes.
And really, I say Annihilation is “weird” but it’s really not that weird. I mean, I was able to follow along, so there’s hope for me yet. Still, how to explain this utterly unique and uncanny novel to the uninitiated (geez, that’s way too many “U” words in a sentence)? You don’t even get names for any of the characters. The story is narrated by a woman simply known as “The Biologist”. She goes on an expedition to a place called Area X with the other members of her team, the Psychologist, the Anthropologist, and the Surveyor, to see what they can find in this chunk of land that has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. I think this idea of a scientific mission was a big part of the appeal for me; Anthropology and Biology are fields that fascinate me, and I’m all about stories about treks into the wilderness for the sake of science.
The team also has the task to find out what happened to the expeditions that came before, and here’s where thing get a little eerie. All those involved in the previous eleven attempts to investigate Area X have ended up dead in some way. With the second expedition, all the members committed suicide. Everyone in the third died because they turned on each other with their guns. Members of the eleventh expedition, the one that came before the Biologist’s, came home from Area X as ghosts of their former selves before all dying of cancer several months later. What we find out later on is that the Biologist’s husband was one of them.
This book is strange and unsettling, which satisfied my appetite for horror. But while I’d been prepared to be a little creeped out, given what I knew of the plot from the description, what I didn’t expect was the feeling of heart-wrenching melancholy that came over me as I was reading about the Biologist’s memories of her husband. There’s a tragic, haunted quality to her narration during these parts, and the lonely and isolated environment that is Area X merely served to emphasize this. Knowing that the character is a rather quiet, antisocial and withdrawn woman, the sincerity and forthrightness of her confessions touched me, but at the same time it was also a source of anxiety. Why would she be telling us all this unless she believed something awful and unthinkable was about to happen? An ominous air of mystery surrounds this story like a shroud and its secrets are revealed only bit by bit, compounding the reader’s feeling of dread as the plot line advances towards the conclusion.
Truly, I am surprised by this book. And seriously impressed. I took to VanderMeer’s writing faster and more comfortably than I expected, but then he also makes it easy with his elegant prose. I was right that this was a quick read, and it was even quicker because I enjoyed it so much. Now I’m really looking forward to picking up Authority, the second book of the Southern Reach trilogy.
I do like VanderMeer and I bought a copy of this book recently. The entire trilogy comes out this year, I believe, so you won’t have to wait long. Glad you loved it, I think I’m a little more I to the “new weird” than you, so I’m sure it’s right up my alley.
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