Hey BookLovers. The book that am going to review today for you is the Southern Reach Trilogies namely – Annihilation, Authority and Acceptance. All by Jeff Vandermeer.
Now I read these books separate, and not the combined hard cover one which I wished I knew before I brought three separate books. Am a hardcover book junkie. Anyhoo, the setting that takes place in the books are called the Southern Reach and its supposed to be somewhere in Florida, USA. The first book was recently made into a movie starring Natalie Portman which am yet to see but is the reason I discovered the series in the first place.I took my time to read all the books and the first one blew my mind.
Annihilation was really captivating. It starts with four members (All women) on an expedition in an area that has been altered or changed three decades ago that has come to be known as Area X. Many expeditions has been sent forth since by the headquarters situated in the Southern Reach. We are introduced to the narrater – The Biologist who comes across rude, antisocial and boring? But thats what makes her apart from the others in the group namely the psychologist, the surveyor and the anthropologist. They belong to the twelfth expedition of the ongoing research of Area X. The interesting part here is the fact that the biologist is the wife of the now deceased member of the eleventh expedition. This is the only time a relative of a former member has been sent on an expedition and that itself is exciting to see what possibilities can happen.
Now Area X is a mysterious place where once was a lighthouse on a forgotten coast. Nobody that has gone inside has ever come back intact or none at all. The members of the eleventh expedition who came back all died of cancer within months.
The synopsis to the 1st book is as follows:
“Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilisation. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.
This is the twelfth expedition.
Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.
They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.”
Now the tone of the book is disturbingly creepy as is meant to be. Its part science fiction and part weird fiction. The atmosphere the author creates is extremely tangible. I felt like I was there watching it all happen right through my eyes and even though the place is as normal as possible nothing is as it seems. The good thing about the first book is that its only a hundred and ninety five pages. Since I was enjoying the book I took two days to read it. Maybe because of the page count I wanted to read more, know more.
The author makes us extremely curious as to whats going on. There is a lot of mention regarding the lighthouse, an island and the most important one – a topographic anomaly. what I disliked about the book – but maybe its deliberate – is how a group of people who are supposed to be working together never trusted one another. Its one thing not to have your real name in the expedition for fear of whatever previous expeditions has taught them but so much mistrust and lack of communication was kind of frustrating. The first book leaves us with many unanswered questions but nevertheless is a satisfying ending, which would have not required any sequel either. But thats where the next book comes in.
Authority. This part of the book deals with the headquarter or the government agency situated near the border to Area X in Southern Reach. We meet the new protagonist, John Rodriguez – (the new director for startling reasons as we come to discover) Or Control as he prefers to be called. The theme of not using names for central characters seems to be continued here. We meet the staff at the southern reach headquarters – chief among them is Grace Stevenson – the assistant director. Then mostly people from the science division. The book in all honesty was a slow torture. We are dealing with a mysterious past of Control whose mother too has worked for the southern reach, which still haunts them both. Not to mention the dull, rotting atmosphere inside the headquarters is just depressing to say the least.
Here too the theme of not trusting your coworkers is continued which is really irritating by this point. I feel like the book could have been a hundred page less out of the three hundred and forty one. It just went on and on about what – I don’t even remember, I skipped some of it because it just wasn’t interesting nor were we reaching anywhere near solving Area X. What I did like about the book was the fresh perspective. Control though not a great narrator was different from all the weird stuff that surrounded the rest of the book. There is a lot more revelation in this book but nothing that helps in coming closer to Area X. Here, the only ‘surviving’ member of the expedition – the biologist is interrogated but those scenes are just frustrating and reveals nothing the writer doesn’t want to.
There is a scene with Control and a chap from science division – Whitby that still kinda haunts me and stands out when I think about the series as a whole and it takes place in store room – you will know what I mean when you reach it. Its extremely creepy and disturbing and sums up the whole series for me. A kind of dread and its like been in a whole different time zone in an alternate reality. The book builds up a lot of terrifying possibilities which culminates in the climax. It kind of left a bitter taste in my mouth. Like it was going somewhere but stopped abruptly and is expected to just make peace with that. Which brings us to the final book.
Acceptance. The Book starts with where it all started, The forgotten coast and the light house. The lighthouse keeper that is mentioned in the first two books is given full coverage here. We see how his last few days unfolded. The Science and Seance brigade makes a come back but is still mysterious as ever. Nothing is made clear in this book. Its just out there for us to see, just as it is. This book is told in different POVs including the previous director/psychologist, the lighthouse keeper, Control and of course Ghost Bird/Biologist.
I think it serves as both a sequel and prequel since it kind of comes full circle. The book does help in understanding how it all happened but there is never a why of it and I get it. There are many stories out there without any beginning or end but what I don’t get is why certain characters just don’t make sense such as Lowry or John’s mother Jackie. The weirdo duos Henry and Suzanne. This is weird fiction at its peek and I don’t remember reading such an extreme fiction before and so was really creeped out. Many scenes involving the lighthouse keeper is just plain weird and nonsensical in a way as its meant to be. What’s real and not real? What’s the connection between S&SB and Area X. Many things are again revealed but nothing that you can make peace with. You are still wondering – ok what else?
Again the book is over long in three hundred and thirty eight pages and I didn’t have the patience to take my time to read it so I finished it in one sitting. I feel this is the most disappointing of the lot. By now you are reading only because you are deep into it and the only way out is to finish reading. The Power of Jeff Vandermeer’s writing Compels you to continue till the end. But when the end comes don’t expect any drum rolls and we are left wondering what the hell did we just read.
The book isn’t in any way apologetic for the way it is. Take it or leave it. We may never know anything about Area X, its purpose or its true origin. It may all ultimately feel pointless hence the apt title Acceptance. Sometimes I think only a master at writing can sell three books about basically nothing. Ha. But despite the disappointment, what the author has been successful in is the atmosphere, the world and the characters he created. Even now as am writing this review all I want to do is finish it, put it behind me and watch something cheerful, which is what I will be doing. And thats saying something.
Bibliogyan Rating – Read it for an out of world experience