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Annihilation: A Novel (The Southern Reach Trilogy Book 1) Kindle Edition
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|Length: 209 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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This is only the first book in a series--a trilogy, I know--but I really really liked it. And people who have reviewed this book either really love it or hate it. There are some inbetweeners, naturally, but from what I've gathered, it seems people are not happy when everything is not laid out and explained to them. And this book does not do that.
Jeff VanderMeer even has the narrator ask a ton of questions, only to sort of answer maybe a few. I think that's what makes this first entry in the series so amazing. We don't get character names (we get a biologist, psychologist, surveyor, husband, etc), we don't get to know everything (a-la third person omniscient narrator, this is told in the first person) and we just really don't know what exactly is going on all the time. What this does, is allow the reader, really, to create more story and imagery than the author intended. And it's sort of like that idea of off-screen violence in film: where what's really happening is probably not as bad as what you are imagining--your imagination is making it worse. And Jeff VanderMeer plays with this notion brilliantly. It's wonderful (though a bit too wordy at times).
Not only was I intrigued the entire time (though some bits with the husband/flashback did drag bit), I probably read this book more quickly than I usually read other books. I felt dread and I felt lost--and that, I thought, was incredible. I like this book also because it reminded me of House of Leaves, which I still have not completed (I know, I know), but the tower/tunnel sequences reminded me of the labyrinth/staircase sequences in House of Leaves. Anxiety-filled dread and claustrophobia galore!
I want to say there are some flaws in this book and certainly, there are (read the other reviews to find out what these are), but overall, for what Jeff was able to achieve in so few (or many!!!) words, bravo. And if you have the time, read the author's Reddit AMA and also read-up a little (if you have the time, again) on the backstory of the series and how this all came to be. It's actually quite interesting--and I'm always for someone who is trying to do something different--that hasn't been done before, you know? 'Cause, why not?
I'm still not sure if I loved this, scared horribly by this or am utterly confused by it. Can I be all three?
Area X - (where is Area X?) is some unknown coastal region that contains unique flora/fauna, unknown structures and horrifying creatures in the night that groan. Control -- some government program -- has been sending expeditions to explore the region. Expeditions that continually end in horrifying tragedies. If the explorers don't kill themselves or each other, the ones that do return seem to have mental and health problems. What would drive people to continue to sign up for these teams when this happens? What drives people to get into shuttle craft when so many have died or explode on liftoff? The urge - the need - to explore?
In this case we join the 12th (TWELVE OF THESE DISASTERS) expedition in the exploration of Area X which seems to have popped up on the planet out of nowhere. I'm not even sure where it is since the elusive "border" which is crossed is hidden from our narrator and as a result the reader. The narrator is "hypnotized" by the team psychologist so that she and the other members of the team have no recollection of the "horror" of crossing. At one point I started wondering if this was some sort of computer simulation? Is it a psych experiment?
The team in this expedition is composed of entirely women all defined throughout the story only by their role on the team: the psychologist, the linguist, the surveyor, the anthropologist and the biologist--our narrator. The narrator herself is so devoid of personality for most of the book. My emotional connection was stronger to her flashbacks of stories about her husband who we learn more about as the story unfolds. I won't spoil his fate but one thing she comments upon is his consistent quest throughout their marriage to get closer to his wife--to learning her inner workings--another kind of exploration? Yet the narrator insists there isn't anything deeper to her--is there?
Then on an entirely different level we have the actual expedition itself. The horror trope of sentient plant life, being chased by the unseen, invasive fungal spores that are terraforming...people. Much like our expedition I was compelled to keep reading onward, propelled by fear despite the fact that I'm still not even sure what the frell I was afraid of--what was the bogeyman of the story? Each next page was filling me with anxiety but I was too scared to not turn the page and push on as I needed answers.
Okay. So I wasn't sure what I was going to rate this - 3 stars, 4 stars? Then as I wrote my review I realized just how many layers were interwoven into this relatively shorter novel and I can't deny that shiny fifth star. This is definitely one I'll go back to re-read a few times over the years in the hopes of gaining knowledge from the strangling fruit?
I guess I kind of loved it. I'm still not sure of half of what I read.
How we humans are, and will be taken by the "ancients". This is sooooo good. But, readers, be patient, You will get to know the people involved in this universe. Feel for 'm, laugh with 'm, feel their pain. Every story has a different view point. But take your time. Jeff creates an atmosphere you will choke upon. I really mean that. But then when did "reading" do that to you? And no, there is no happy ending for all 'm faint hearted.. How could there be? At first I thought this would be the earth from a Sovjet Union view point. Elderly Europeans will know what I mean. Sort of like Orwell's 1984, you got that feeling in this trilogy. I guess a dictatorial universe would be Lovecraftian, but then without the Ancient Ones.We make our ownand nothing mysterious about that.
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