Annihilation (Southern Reach #1) by Jeff VanderMeer
Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux on February 4, 2014
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Goodreads avg: 3.64
Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died 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 months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.
This is the twelfth expedition.
Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.
They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.
When I saw the first trailer for the Annihilation movie several months ago, I immediately added the book to my TBR-ASAP shelf on Goodreads without even reading through the description. I put in a hold at the library, waited patiently, and then devoured the book immediately after checking it out.
The effect of this cannot be understood without being there. The beauty of it cannot be understood, either, and when you see beauty in desolation it changes something inside you. Desolation tries to colonize you.
It’s been a while since a book has hooked me so strongly from the first page, but Annihilation did just that. The writing was just gorgeous, and I was instantly pulled into the world of Area X that VanderMeer had created. From the outset, I didn’t want to put it down, but I forced myself to work my way through slowly and to savor every page.
But there is a limit to thinking about even a small piece of something monumental. You still see the shadow of the whole rearing up behind you, and you become lost in your thoughts in part from the panic of realizing the size of that imagined leviathan.
I adored the narrator and loved the style in which the book was written: a journal penned carefully by the biologist, detailing her experiences on the expedition. The reader’s awareness of Area X, and the events taking place within it, relies completely on what the biologist is willing to share. I loved that she could be a bit of an unreliable narrator, and that she was able to outright admit to intentionally manipulating the reader with what she shared.
But soon enough I banished this nonsense; some questions will ruin you if you are denied the answer long enough.
If you’re the type of reader who wants all of their questions answered, this book isn’t for you. There is no omniscient narrator to share the secrets of Area X with us. There is only the biologist and what she knows, or what she thinks she knows.
I can say without a doubt that Annihilation is now one of my all-time favorite books, and will certainly be on my top 10 list at the end of 2018. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the Southern Reach trilogy has in store for me.