book reviews by Althea

Annihilation – Jeff VanderMeer ****

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(Southern Reach #1)

Recommended for fans of the movie, ‘The Descent’ – it reminded me of it in feel, and not only because all the members of the expeditions in both stories are female.

Here, there is a mysterious land, cut off from the rest of the world by an undefined kind of ‘border.’ Crossing the border requires hypnotism. A governmental(?) authority has been sending expeditions to study and analyze conditions in ‘Area X.’ It is known that these expeditions are dangerous, and that there is a high chance of not returning – or returning but never being quite the same.

On this particular expedition, all of the researchers are strangely compelled to explore and examine what most of them see as an artificially-constructed tunnel, but our narrator, a biologist, insists on thinking of as a buried ‘tower.’

The members of the team are oddly insistent on maintaining a professional ‘distance’ – to the point of not using each others’ names, or sharing their life stories. This has the effect of making the book feel a little ‘removed’ – an effect which is enhanced by the clearly unreliable, first-person perspective of the narrator. However, I really enjoyed it. I felt that it was just-metaphorical-enough (the whole thing could definitely be read as a philosophical exploration of mental states; but it’s still definitely enjoyable for its straightforward horror-adventure.) It’s also weird and creepy – but not the trying-too-hard-to-be-weird that I’ve felt that some of Vandermeer’s other work has veered into. The chthonic horrors are nicely Lovecraftian. It’s a short book, but not a terribly quick read – I found myself wanting to read a small section and then let it soak in…

I’ll definitely seek out the next two books in this set…


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