Annihilation (2014) by Jeff Vandermeer

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
Title: Annihilation
Series: Southern Reach Trilogy, Book 1
Format: Audiobook
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Length: 6 hours / 210 pages


Publisher’s Synopsis

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.


My Thoughts

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.

Cover to the Audiobook, read by Carolyn McCormick

Thanks for reading!

25 thoughts on “Annihilation (2014) by Jeff Vandermeer

  1. I only ever watched the movie, but didn’t enjoy it despite okay performances – the story was so full of plot holes and totally unconvincing that I never had an urge to check out the novel. Sorry it wasn’t a better experience for you!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’ve been unsure of this one. It sounds like it could be interesting, but… And, though I didn’t hate the movie, it didn’t really leave me wanting to see any sequels. It just felt a bit flat. Granted, I think deciding whether or not to read a book based on the movie could be a problem given how often movies are pale imitations of the books, I still just don’t feel compelled to try this trilogy. Have you read any other works by this author? I don’t believe I have.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No I haven’t. I’ve heard some good things about his book ‘Borne’ from 2017. Also an earlier book called ‘City of Saints and Madmen’. Thanks for your comment 🙂

      Like

  3. I had the exact same experience: nice mystery mood, weak plot & stale characters. I truly don’t understand why people rave about it. It was in fashion however at the time because of the 4 females gimmick. Clever marketing trick from the author.

    Liked by 1 person

      • There’s merit to the mood too obviously, but I don’t think it would’ve gotten so much attention without the female leads. It was the start of about every blurb or review at the time. The same time as Leckie’s debut btw, that also got lots and lots of attention because of the pronouncs – while it’s not even important for the story.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I remember meeting Alex Garland when he was touring with The Beach, felt he’d run out of ideas. Since then, he’s cherry picked existing ideas, and this one (the film of this book) was a straight book adaptation. Like posters above, I liked the atmosphere, but wasn’t knocked out by the story development. Feels like the aim was a Tarkovsky-style journey, but the levels of involvement never quite came to the boil.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it felt like it was all about the atmosphere. Great comment by the way. I never thought I would get a reference to Tarkovsky on my blog 🤓 Thank you!

      Did you enjoy the movies Sunshine and Ex Machina?

      Like

      • Good question! They have Garland’s interest in brainy sci-fi written all over them, but I’d say they rework the cliches without adding enough that’s new. Even 28 Days Later is just Day of the Triffids with a different antagonist. His book The Tesseract is probably the best original thing he’s written.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, I rate The Tesseract highly. Great book, and the film wasn’t too bad. I’ve enjoyed all of the movies Garland has been involved in, even Annihilation up to a point. But yeah, it would be nice to see something truly original by him and Boyle.

          Liked by 1 person

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