I’ve owned the Southern Reach trilogy for ages. I don’t even remember how I found out about it, if it was a fellow Cannonballer who recommended it or if I read about it on a friend’s Facebook page or something else entirely. I lent it to my dad before I had read it, and, because he lives in another country, it took about a year before I got it back. So when I finally started reading it, I had forgotten what it was about. I’m not sure I know what it is about now after having read it, either.
Annihilation is the first book in the above-mentioned trilogy. Four women, a psychologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor and our narrator, the biologist, are part of an expedition into Area X, a mysterious part of the country where strange things have been happening. There have been other expeditions before theirs, but they didn’t end well. As expected, this expedition does not fare that much better…
Area X is a creepy place, and author Jeff VanderMeer is pretty good at portraying it as such. Annihilation has all the qualities of a bad dream: nightmarish creatures, things that should do this do that instead, isolation, and the feeling that something familiar and normal has been transformed into something sinister, without losing those familiar qualities. Like your favourite teddy bear suddenly growing sharp teeth.
It doesn’t help that our narrator is unreliable. We are never given any names for any of the people in this book, names that might otherwise create a sense that we know them. They are called by their profession. The biologist questions the nature of her reality more than once, and if she can’t trust herself, how can we trust her? This only adds to the feeling of isolation.
The characters are unlikable, on purpose I believe, although there were certain sides to the biologist that I admired: her dedication to her job, her courage, her resilience. Yet she’s full of rough edges.
I liked this book a lot, but I hesitate to give it a higher score than 3/5: as a stand-alone book it feels incomplete, although it tries to wrap up the biologist’s story by the end. I am hoping that some of the questions it raises will be answered in the second and third book of the trilogy.