Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Publication date: 30 July 2015
Genre: Science fiction
Page count: 208 pages
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
This is a spoiler-free review.
Annhilation had been languishing on my TBR for over a year before I picked it up for the N.E.W.T.s readathon. Having loved the film version starring Natalie Portman, I had high hopes for this weird little book, however I’m not entirely sure what to think.
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.
Annihilation is a dense, dizzying book that honestly doesn’t always make sense. I’m not entirely sure I’m the right reader for it, but I can certainly see its genius. It’s an incredibly atmospheric read that pulls you right into the suffocating setting and tense environment and story — he’s incredibly effective at building the world of the Southern Reach in all its weird glory. The levels of tension that VanderMeer creates are pretty astonishing — my shoulders were up around my ears throughout the entire book. That being said, the book is left open ended enough that I wasn’t sure this tension ever really diffused or resolved.
I really enjoyed the character of the Biologist, who’s real name we never learn, and the journey that she undergoes in Area X. Her journey is a little bit jumbled as she ventures further into the bizarre environment, and it really reflects her mindset so well. Her flashbacks to her life before Area X, both as a child and as a married woman, add so much to her story and to the overall mood of the book. Although I really came out of Annihilation with no clear answers about her, her state of mind, or her fate, I thought her story carried the book well.
I’m being a little more open about the ending and the fact that we get no answers from VanderMeer because I really don’t think this book will suit everyone. If you like a thumping good read, a fast-paced tale of adventure, or even a book that simply answers the questions it poses, Annihilation will not be for you. However, I do think it’s worth a crack for the great writing, bizarre and wonderful world, and the deep dive into a character’s mind.
Want to try Annihilation for yourself? You can find it at the following sites (affiliate links):