Book Review: Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
Annihilation has an interesting, otherworldly setup.
Four women are on an expedition to explore Area X. Eleven expeditions before them had tried to chart the area with varying results. One group committed suicide. Another group’s members died of cancer. Yet another killed each other.
This expedition thinks it will be different. A bit of an unexpected grouping, they’re made up of an archaeologist, a surveyor, a psychologist, and our narrator, a biologist. The psychologist acts as their leader, hypnotizing them during the trek’s more arduous sections. It’s supposed to be to protect their minds from taking on more than they can handle. But we begin to wonder if the psychologist is slipping in additional, more nefarious commands.
When our biologist narrator accidentally ingests a mystery powder during the journey, she becomes immune to hypnotic suggestion. She can now see Area X for what it really is, an Edenesque, fungi-ridden place with strange elements that challenges the limits of the human mind.
“What can you do when your five senses are not enough?”
Things begin to go horribly wrong. Deadly wrong.
“Perhaps my only real expertise, my only talent, is to endure beyond the endurable.”
Annihilation spends a lot of time on setting and world-building. Area X serves as a fifth main character, pulsating and menacing. It works its way into the women’s psyches until they can’t believe anything before them.
My reading passion lies with character studies. I love getting into a person’s head and living out the complexities that reside there. Being a person is an exquisite, messy affair.
Annihilation, however, is more of a study in setting. Instead of the bumps and ridges of a person’s brain, we explore the terrain of the land.
I didn’t get to know or care about the characters as much as I would have liked. The biologist’s backstory is interesting, but I wanted more. She revealed her history, but I never fully felt the ache of the things she’s lost.
It’s still an interesting setup, well-written and beloved by many. Just not my personal preference.
Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
Southern Reach Series, #1 of 3
Published February 2014
Farrar, Straus and Giroux