Date read: October 23rd, 2017
Published by HarperCollins, Fourth Estate, 2014
Verdict: Utterly spellbinding, deeply unsettling, hauntingly beautiful.
Welcome to Area X. An Edenic wilderness, an environmental disaster zone, a mystery for thirty years.
For thirty years, Area X, monitored by the secret agency known as the Southern Reach, has remained mysterious and remote behind its intangible border– an environmental disaster zone, though to all appearances an abundant wilderness. Eleven expeditions have been sent in to investigate; even for those that have made it out alive, there have been terrible consequences.
‘Annihilation’ is the story of the twelfth expedition and is told by its nameless biologist. Introverted but highly intelligent, the biologist brings her own secrets with her. She is accompanied by a psychologist, an anthropologist and a surveyor, their stated mission: to chart the land, take samples and expand the Southern Reach’s understanding of Area X.
But they soon find out that they are being manipulated by forces both strange and all too familiar. An unmapped tunnel is not as it first appears. An inexplicable moaning calls in the distance at dusk. And while each member of the expedition has surrendered to the authority of the Southern Reach, the power of Area X is far more difficult to resist.
Oh I liked this so.
I had this book on my TBR for what feels like forever and I am so glad I finally read it. Jeff VanderMeer has a brilliant imagination and the world he creates feels utterly original, startlingly so, but still grounded in something like believability.
There is not all that much to the plot: four women embarque on an expedition into Area X; they are the 12th expedition of this kind and all the ones that came before ended somewhat mysteriously. The reader never really learns what Area X is and how it came to be and what exactly happened to the people who went before. It becomes clear that the participants have not been told the truth but also maybe haven’t told the truth either. The biologist, who tells the story, is an unreliable narrator that I still found myself rooting for. This book is vague and does not give any answers but rather than that being annoying for me it only added to its allure. I have been thinking about this book ever since I finished it and the more I do so the more brilliant I find it.
Jeff VanderMeer’s greatest talent lies in creating an atmosphere so all-encompassing that I felt like I was part of the story. The book is highly unsettling and set my pulse running; I could not stop reading and yet dreaded finding out what was going to happen next. This creepy, unsettling, brilliant atmosphere was my favourite part of the book (and I have NO idea how they are going to try and recreate this for the upcoming movie).
First sentence: “The Tower, which was not supposed to be there, plunges into the earth in a place just before the black pine forest begins to give way to swamp and then the reeds and wind-gnarled trees of the marsh flats.”