The first in a trilogy, all three to be published this year, Annihilation tells the story of an expedition into the mysterious Area X, the twelfth such to be sent in the thirty years since a supposed environmental disaster cut the area off. The story is told from the viewpoint of the biologist, one of four women making up this most recent attempt to investigate.
As the blurb says, their mission is:
to chart the land, take samples and expand the Southern Reach’s understanding of Area X.
But of course it’s not as simple as that.
Why did I want to read it?
I’m not sure where I first saw this book mentioned, but it seemed to pop up all over the place with what seemed like uniformly positive reviews. I’m not one who normally follows what everyone else is reading (I think I’ve actually said before that I actively avoid those books until the fuss dies down) but something about this intrigued me and onto the Kindle app it was summoned. I’ve also never read any VanderMeer before though he has been on my radar for ages.
What did I think of it?
This is a really strange book, but I mean that in a good way. For a start we never know the names of the four women who make up the twelfth expedition, they are only ever referred to by their job titles (as well as the biologist we have an anthropologist, a psychologist and a surveyor). We learn early on that there was a fifth woman, a linguist, but we don’t know what happened to her. We also know that previous expeditions have spectacularly failed and its’ clear that things are going to go wrong with this bunch too, and fairly quickly.
There is a tower (or is it a tunnel?) with strange writing that appears to be alive. There is a lighthouse which is somehow significant. There is clear evidence that the team is being manipulated in some way by Southern Reach, the organisation that has sent them in. The psychologist knows more than she is letting on and is using hypnotic suggestion to control her team mates. And of course the biologist has a secret, a reason of her own for having volunteered for this mission.
This is short book, some 200 pages or so, and I read most of it in one sitting. It’s really very strange and I’m not entirely sure what I think of it, other than that it was compelling and communicated a real sense of mystery and dread and weirdness. Things moving in the dark, things that are unnatural, a feeling that nothing is what it seems, foreboding and otherness. A bit Lovecraftian in places (a good thing IMHO). Unsettling.
I’m not articulating my thoughts terribly well because it’s still percolating. But I’ve already pre-ordered the second in the trilogy which comes out in May and I can’t wait to see what more we will find out.