Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Book Review | Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Annihilation is the first book in Jeff VanderMeer's scifi/horror trilogy Southern Reach.

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. 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.

Seeing the trailer for the Annihilation movie has jumped started me into finally reading this trilogy.

Annihilation follows the twelfth expedition into Area X. I can't really explain Area X to you because even though I've now read Annihilation, I still don't understand it. (I don't think I'm supposed to understand it, either.) The previous expeditions in Area X all ended in some form of death so we don't have very high hopes for the folks setting out on expedition twelve. There are four women heading out on this expedition - the biologist, the psychologist, the surveyor, and the anthropologist.

The characters are referred to by their profession instead of by their names. The lack of names bothered me at first. I felt like the author thought I was too dumb to remember both the names and the occupations of the characters. This aspect of only calling the characters by their profession grew on me, though. It made more and more sense as the story went on, and even became helpful when we started diving into what happened on the previous expeditions.

Another complaint that got better as the story went on was the backstory of the narrator and her husband. I didn't like the chemistry there so it was hard for me to get on board with their relationship or find any interest in that part of the story. It's something I was able to overcome by the end.

This isn't to say Annihilation started out weak. It was quite the opposite. I was really hooked to the story in the beginning. It was so creepy and so imaginative. As the book went on, though, the focus continued to change. Toward the end I wished I was reading a detailed summary of the book instead of trying to wrap my head around what I was actually reading. I think the combination of the writing and the unreliable narrator kept me pretty distant from the story. I wanted some sort of book translator to explain it all to me. I definitely had more questions than answers.

Despite my lack of interest in certain aspects of this book, I really, really liked what was going on with the ending. It has given me extra incentive to move forward with this series. I hope to dive in while I still have a bit of that strangely intriguing feeling happening.

As you can tell, I had mixed reactions to Annihilation through the entire book. I'm uncertain how I feel about it overall. There are aspects of Annihilation I can see growing in my mind and in my memory over time, but I also have a sense of wishing more had taken place and wishing the second half of the book had offered more of what I found in the first half.

I would recommend Annihilation to folks who like weird tales. I think it goes without saying that I would also recommend it to anyone considering watching the movie. I'm anxious to see how the movie makers handle bringing this strange story to the screen. The book feels incomplete (as series books tend to do these days) so I'm nervous that's going to carry over to movie going experience as well.

Any which way you look at it, though, I'm looking forward to watching the movie, and I'm curious to see how the rest of the series plays out in the next two books.

6/10: Good Read

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  1. I don't usually do well with the "new weird" genre, which is the category most people tag this book, but I actually did okay in this case. I'm curious to see how the film adaptation will turn out too.

    ~Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

  2. Ugh! I want to read this one because of the movie but didn’t know it’s a series. And I hate when there’s no conflict resolution in a story and it’s just a lead up to boom two. Grrr! I’ll probsbly still try it but I hope it’s not too weird.

  3. This is a strange book indeed. I liked it, well, I couldn't tear myself away from it more like. It's creepy as hell and very unconventional ways. In some respects it turned me into Gollum because, like you, I loved it and hated it. I did love it more though so it turned out well. I need to carry on with the series now. I didn't know it was being adapted so hopefully that will give me extra incentive to catch up.
    Lynn :D

  4. I think I'll see the movie version first and see how it goes. Great review, Jennifer!

  5. Oh yay! I've seen a lot of really terrible reviews for this but that movie trailer has also inspired me to finally read this. So glad you liked this.

  6. The premise is definitely intriguing! If my library has this I'm definitely giving it a try. Don't promise I'll finish it, but... ;)

  7. I loved this, but I've only read the first book (lack of time). I probably won't see the movie, though. It looks terrifying!

  8. I'm a sucker for weird but have been on the fence about it. However, like you, if I plan on watching the movie, I will want to read the book first. Maybe I'll see about grabbing it from the library (not like I don't have enough to read).

  9. Sounds like it could v=have been a 10 if it had stayed on track huh? Glad you enjoyed it despite

    1. Yes, there was a lot of potential with this one!

  10. The blurb sounds a bit weird and complicated so I don't think I could risk the book personally!


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