I’m glad I read it but I’m not sure I enjoyed it.
That is how I summed up the Southern Reach Trilogy to a friend who’d also read them. They are the oddest books I’ve read in a long time, mainly because I’m not quite sure what they are saying.
Annihilation starts the story with a biologist in a strange land (Area X) which is a quarantined part of Earth and under investigation. The thing is, all previous expeditions have ended in death of some description.
This story was recently made into a film by Alex Garland and for some reason went straight to Netflix which was a real shame. It stars Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaacs and is a total reworking of these stories. If you think you can watch the film and then pick up the books, think again, there is really not a great deal of similarity in all honesty but it’s definitely worth a watch. If nothing else they are beautifully made. As always though I’d say read the book first.
The middle book, Authority, picks up where Annihilation leaves off but through the eyes of Control, the new head of the agency tasked to make sense of Area X who finds himself deeper than he ever thought he would. It seems everyone is against him including his mysterious mother who is high up in the department as well as Grace, the assistant director who instantly hates Control.
The final book, Acceptance, goes inside Area X through many different characters views as they all push for the answers so desperately sought. I can’t really give you any more than that without risking spoilers but I will say this was the most enjoyable of the three in my opinion.
The style of writing is unusual. I found myself completely bewildered to what was going on in parts, in others totally gripped and the rest slightly bored. There didn’t seem to be a lot of consistency. The author, Jeff Vandermeer, seems to have a tendency to describe at length things that don’t really matter or engage and then, as if he knows he’s lost his reader, drop in something critical to the story that you miss and have to go back and re-read. I suppose this is a new way of writing but for me it was annoying and made it a far more laborious task than it needed to be. About halfway through the second book, I realised that I was fighting against this new way of storytelling and I should just go with it and let the information come, trust the author that he wouldn’t let me miss anything vital.
As you get deeper into the story, the main characters reveal themselves a little more but it’s hard to feel sympathy for any of them as we don’t get much insight into what motivates them other than the usual lost loves and mother issues, which seem a little obvious.
The overall tone though is one of claustrophobia which is perfectly unsettling for a book like this and you are left with more questions than you started with. Sorry folks, no neat bow at the end of this trilogy.
Would I recommend these books? Maybe, but only if you really like dystopian future style stories. If you’re “meh” about them, then this probably isn’t for you . Halfway through is a real lull but I’m a determined completionist and won’t be beaten. I definitely needed something a bit light after this voyage.