My rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Date read: December 3rd, 2017
Published by 4th Estate, 2015
The Southern Reach is a government agency so secret it has almost been forgotten.
Following the disastrous twelfth expedition chronicled in ‘Annihilation’, the second book of the Southern Reach trilogy introduces John Rodriguez, the new head of the government agency responsible for the safeguarding of Area X. His first day is spent grappling with the fall-out from the last expedition. Area X itself remains a mystery. But, as instructed by a higher authority known only as The Voice, the self-styled Control must battle to ‘put his house in order’.
From a series of interrogations, a cache of hidden notes and hours of profoundly troubling video footage, the mysteries of Area X begin to reveal themselves―and what they expose pushes Control to confront disturbing truths about both himself and the agency he’s promised to serve.
Undermined and under pressure to make sense of everything, Rodriguez retreats into his past in a labyrinthine search for answers. Yet the more he uncovers, the more he risks, for the secrets of the Southern Reach are more sinister than anyone could have known.
My thoughts on this are, you guessed it, complicated. This follow-up to Annhililation (which I LOVED.) is a very different beast. Set shortly after the events of the first book, it is completely different in feeling and in genre. It does not take place in Area X but rather in the Southern Reach itself where a new director has been placed who will have to try and figure out what is really going on.
There is one thing I am absolutely sure of: Jeff VanderMeer is a genius. He has a way of writing that I find exciting and fresh and original and super brilliant. I adore the way he writes weird books where the weirdness is always grounded in what we know of the world he creates. The world he created here is unsettling and just on the edge of ours; close enough to upset, far away enough to intrigue.
But there were lenghty parts of this book that I was bored to near tears. It felt much longer than it is and reading it often felt like a chore. I have a sneaking suspicion though: maybe that was the point; maybe I was supposed to be bored; maybe this was supposed to drag. Of course, I can never know for sure if that is the case – but then I don’t think an author’s intent is all that important when compared to what the reader gets out of it. This boredom feels intentional – it fits into the themes of bureaucracy and lack of autonomy. It is in direct contrast to what we know of Area X: which is untamed and unblemished by humanity – this feeling is mirrored in the sprawling, unfocussed, fascinating narrative voice of the first book. But this book is set outside of Area X, in the organization that is trying to contain whatever is happening; and doing this in an increasingly rigid way.
So yes, I do not even know what I make of this book. Again, Jeff VanderMeer keeps me at arm’s length from the characters – who do not know who they are themselves (or if they are themselves even), but impresses me with his vivid language.
First sentence: “In Control’s dream it is early morning, the sky deep blue with just a twinge of light.”