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What We’re Reading: Annihilation

Post by Lauren Kage
Posted August 26, 2014 in NoveList Bookshelf

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Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

Recommended by: Lauren Kage

What is it about?

Area X is an anomaly still poorly understood thirty-odd years after its appearance.  An area of pristine, yet disorienting wilderness occupying a stretch of American coast, it has confounded eleven previous expeditions to its interior, returning those experts with memories altered or erased, if they return at all.  Annihilation follows the first-person narrative of the Biologist, a member of the twelfth expedition into Area X.  Through her observations, readers experience the strangeness and beauty of this deadly landscape and her rising suspicion that the purpose behind these years of doomed expeditions is not all the scientists who carry them out have been told. 

Why I like it:

Though first-person narration is never my first choice, it works extremely well throughout this novel.  The Biologist keeps her own secrets and speaks with an internal voice at once self-examining and unreliable, allowing the author to write several poetically introspective passages but maintaining suspense as the reader decides with which scientist to sympathize.  I found it notable as well that Jeff Vandermeer chose to make the members of the twelfth expedition all women, succeeding admirably in distinguishing their personalities and professional expertise.  The pleasure of following these characters who, confronted with terrifying uncertainties, reacted believably if not always wisely sent me straight to the sequel: Authority. 

Interesting tidbit:

Annihilation is the first book of the Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance).

I'd recommend this book to…

The central character of Annihilation is really Area X itself, which changes all who encounter it.  Readers with a strong affinity for setting will be enthralled by the Biologist, carrying out her scientific function, recording finely detailed, well-crafted descriptions of the no-man's land she and her colleagues have been sent to explore.  The book also blends slow-burning psychological suspense and science fiction in roughly equal measure, so fans of these genres will relish each startling revelation or description of a weird, perhaps unearthly life form.

Memorable quote:

"The map had been the first form of misdirection, for what is a map but a way of emphasizing some things and making other things invisible?"

Lauren Kage is a Cataloger at NoveList.