“We all live in a kind of continuous dream,” I told him. “When we wake, it is because something, some event, some pinprick even, disturbs the edges of what we’ve taken as reality.”
Author: Jeff Vandermeer
Series: Southern Reach Trilogy, Book 1
Length: 6 hours / 210 pages
Area X has been cut off from the rest of the world for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; the second expedition ended in mass suicide, the third 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 weeks, all had died of cancer. In Annihilation, the first volume of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, we join the twelfth expedition.
Annihilation is all about atmosphere. It is a weird, creepy tale that has strong Lovecraftian vibes. There is a simple plot involving four women going on an expedition into the mysterious ‘Area X’, an abandoned piece of land that has been restricted by the government. This group of unnamed women are the twelfth expedition to enter the area, suggesting that previous expeditions were unsuccessful–see the synopsis above for more info. The four women are known only by their professions: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist; and a biologist who narrates the story. They are sent in to map the area and report on what they find there.
The biologist is an unreliable narrator. Initially, her narration is very “matter-of-fact” scientific observation, like she is recording everything for a report. She seems cool, detached and unemotional. She reveals little glimpses of her life before the expedition: time spent with her husband; how she enjoys isolation; her observations of the biological life in a local park. But despite these details, I never felt like I knew who she was. Then, not long after starting the expedition, she inhales some spores from Area X and begins to change.
This was a strange one; high on atmosphere, low on character development and plot. It’s more about the experience of reading the book than making sense of the story. It feels like Vandermeer wants to immerse the reader in the strange landscape of Area X and then leave you to get lost in there. Annihilation is the first part of The Southern Reach Trilogy but I doubt I will continue with it. I listened to the audiobook read by Carolyn McCormick and enjoyed her performance.
The novel won the 2014 Nebula Award for Best Novel and the 2014 Shirley Jackson Award for best novel.
Thanks for reading!