Leonard Gaya's Reviews > Annihilation

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review

really liked it

A swimming pool. A rocky bay. An empty lot. A tower. A lighthouse. These things are real and not real. They exist and they do not exist.

This is one of the weirdest pieces of literature I have read in recent months. I guess this short novel is redolent of the strange fascination one sometimes feels when gazing at a heavy, sleepy pool of water, where fish and tadpoles swarm and waggle among dead weeds, and more massive creatures seem to be lurking in the dark, unfathomable depths underneath.

Area X is one such fascinating place, an abandoned, nondescript no-man’s-land. We don’t know where it is nor how it came to be there. We only know about the twelfth expedition, a group of four unnamed women, who cross a border into this land. It’s also unclear what they are supposed to be doing there. Each of these women have their agenda. The only thing that seems obvious enough is that they are exploring a very bizarre piece of landscape.

The story is narrated by one of the crew, the biologist, in what sounds like a diary, addressed to an indefinite “you” —would that be the reader of the novel? If so, would we be part of the story in some way? The biologist recounts her hike through Area X, as well as a series of recollections of her husband, who was part of the previous expedition. This journal is one of a collection of many more journals. Some parts of Area X are in fact, like the journal, like the novel we’re reading, pieces of text, written in living and growing brain-like script down the staircase of a tunnel which is at the same time a Tower. But we never know if the protagonist is experiencing reality or a nightmare or some hallucination induced by drugs or hypnosis. The harrowing episode of the Crawler, a final Lovecraftian revelation at this point of the narrative, is an astonishing description of an unearthly encounter.

VanderMeer is a superb stylist but his style is often distracting, and his book is both engrossing and frustrating, since it leaves us guessing at every turn of the page. In some way, it strongly reminded me of Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic, especially Stalker, Tarkovsky’s film adaptation —Tarkovsky is probably the one filmmaker who has, as I mentioned before, the most potent fascination for stagnant waters and dancing reeds. It also made me think of Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island, and Scorsese’s adaptation of that book, with the lighthouse and the constant suspicion about the narrator’s sanity. On a side note, Annihilation shares similar themes with Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and with Alain Damasio’s La Horde du Contrevent. Not to mention J. J. Abram's Lost.

Looking forward indeed to reading the rest of The Southern Reach trilogy and watching the upcoming Alex Garland movie on Netflix (no theatrical release in the UK, for some reason).

Edit: In Ex Machina, Alex Garland examined the consequences of machine’s ability to imitate human feelings to perfection, leading to the demise of the protagonist (a re-read of Frankenstein). Three years later, Netflix has just released Garland’s adaptation of Annihilation, which is in line with movies such as Alien and Apocalypse Now. His concerns remain the same: the counterfeit of human form and behaviour, and a fascination for whatever is creeping under the skin. Only this time, machines are replaced by a blooming patch of nature, with strange vines, eels, alligators and bears. In the process, the film takes many liberties with the novel’s plot. It is nonetheless visually stunning, and Natalie Portman is, as always, impressive. One thing that remains faithful to the book is its disturbing weirdness.
100 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Annihilation.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

March 1, 2018 – Started Reading
March 1, 2018 – Shelved
March 5, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-14 of 14 (14 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Markus (new)

Markus I like your attentive review, Leonard. The books could easily be up my lane.

message 2: by 7jane (new)

7jane I read it in all-three volume, it definitely is weird *and* will get even weirder from here ;)

Jen from Quebec :0) Yup- this review confirms that this book is exactly what I was HOPING it would be, you know? Thanks. --Jen from Quebec :0)

message 4: by Leonard (last edited Mar 06, 2018 04:37AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Leonard Gaya Thank you all for your kind words. Looking forward to reading your own take on this book.

Stephen You'll find the Garland movie has the same surreal, creepy vibe, but does not follow the book--its story is quite different. I enjoyed it anyway.

Leonard Gaya Thanks Stephen. Hopefully I’ll be able to watch it next week when it launches on Netflix around here.

Stephen Interested to hear your thoughts.

Stephen Great review. I had the same reaction to the film. I like Garland's work. An interesting eye. I just finished the Southern Reach series and was rather disappointed but the third book Acceptance. My reviews of 2 and 3 are posted.

message 9: by Tim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tim "both engrossing and frustrating" is, I think, the most succinct review -- it's the blurb I would put on the cover (and I gave it 4 stars).

Leonard Gaya Haha! Not sure it would sell that well though...

William Thank you for the review!

This was truly brilliant, horror in slow motion, and the movie was quite wonderful (but very different from the action of the book)

Leonard Gaya Thanks again! To me, it's the sort of horror that isn't so much terrifying as it is disturbing. A pity the movie hasn't had more prominence, I guess.

William The creeping down into the lighthouse and the experiences and living words felt very much like Edgar Allen Poe to me. Awesome!

Leonard Gaya Indeed. Lovecraft also comes to mind, obviously.

back to top