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Annihilation (Southern Reach, #1)
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Annihilation > Ann: This book is not normal narrative

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Daniel Eavenson (dannyeaves) | 127 comments I almost feel like we should add a trigger warning or something to this month’s book pick. It's written in such a different style that I found it very dangerous to my calm more than a subject of horror.

It's something that few books can do but this one takes an approach that makes it very dangerous for certain people. This book doesn't use the common narrative to tell a story, in the normal way that people are used to. This is what I think would be called a chaos narrative. The personal description of someone who is progressing through their own mental illness, and we are left witness to something alien, or worse yet not alien and in fact, all too familiar.

It’s the progression of someone through a mental illness that starts for them at a very young age and terminates only after they are themselves on the edge of...well annihilation. To see that in yourself suddenly without warning, having it piped into your ears while you are toiling away at work was rather distressing, and not in an enjoyable horror but rather the deep sucking sound.

The clinical observational nature of the narrative as it is applied to the narrator’s own life allows for the distillation of herself through the pages of the novel in such a way that you can't help but be pulled along, not by the story or the events but by the character’s ever downward march toward the end. Something that if you see it in yourself can create a disturbing experience of feeling diseased and unexpressed, as it did in me.

I think I didn't like the book, not because of the how it was written, but because of how unprepared I was for this type of story. There's little attention to a plot construction in the classical since. The story doesn't move in the rise to peak and fall motion that I am used to, instead it just rides along in a flat line until the end where it falls off. It's eschewing of the common structures helps to set the tone of the unknowable and indescribable but also sets the book up for failure as it misleads with the introduction of common tropes that need that structure to execute correctly. The conspiracy. The alien invasion. The mysterious message. These are things that we are used to seeing, and have common resolutions. To simply ignore those resolutions is not a continuation of the tone of impossibility but simply lazy because they can be resolved so easily. Better to not introduce them at all and keep the chaos narrative pure to the person and their disease. Of course for me they also be proved to be faults that I could get my fingers into. That I could calm down because ultimately I didn’t like the book. Also illness stories are usually thought to be therapeutic but after this I think I’ll just keep up my talking therapy and avoid looking to deeply into the lives/diaries of people that are too similar to me.

So this got more personal than I was intending. I guess what do you guys think about the narrative structure of the book and did anyone else have anything like my reaction?


message 2: by Brendan (last edited Feb 05, 2015 06:14PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Brendan (mistershine) | 928 comments It sounds like it must have been a very good book to have affected you so deeply.


Joanna Chaplin | 1175 comments I did not experience what you experienced but I have experienced something similar with other books and movies. When that happens, I often say that I appreciated the book but did not, strictly speaking, enjoy it. For example: the the movie The Dark Knight, which I thought was extremely well crafted, with many scenes which I enjoyed, but on the whole I came out of that movie feeling mildly emotionally bruised.


Rich Boulton (rich_boulton) Your post is really fascinating, as is your reaction to the book. I agree with Brendan that it seems to speak to the quality of the book that it was this powerful for you, though of course that is not necessarily the same as enjoying the experience.

The structure is non-standard - I want to say experimental but I'm certainly not well-read enough to know how original it really is within literature. This is one of my favourite aspects of the book though, it uses some familiar genre setup, but defies expectations at every turn and, as I think I've laboured over in another thread, this perfectly fits the nature of Area X, which takes familiar entities (e.g. dolphins) and subtly denies any comprehension of them.

This is the reason though that I don't fully agree with your assessment - this idea of taking familiar tropes and refusing to do familiar things with them is essential to what the book is doing. I also don't think the biologist is suffering any mental illness (perhaps a slight analogy to one post-spores), she comes across as incredibly stable and comfortable with her own nature. So I couldn't back an idea of the book without any of the tropes being introduced at all.


message 5: by Ruth (tilltab) Ashworth (last edited Feb 06, 2015 05:01AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ruth (tilltab) Ashworth | 1694 comments I think books (along with films and other such things) have a power to connect with things inside us that we haven't consciously recognised, and in this case, Daniel, it sounds like it has been a negative experience for you, which is unfortunate. Perhaps, with your therapist's help, you can work out why it has so strongly affected you, and maybe it will prove a useful thing, a good tool for self reflection? All the best, anyway.

I am uncomfortable with the idea of trigger warnings in this case, because I think it is impossible to point to anything specific about this book that might be generally problematic (I am on the fence about trigger warnings in general, mind you).

Your reaction to the biologist is interesting, and I had not seen her in that light. I didn't really consider her to suffer from mental illness, and her introversion, though extreme, did not appear to be debilitating. Actually, I thought it gave her strength. She seemed quite intelligent in recognising the ills of her past actions and behaviour, and I felt like she progressed as a character throughout the book. Unlike you, I did not perceive her progress to be entirely downward, but saw her as developing and changing in ways I found interesting.

I didn't find the structure of this story entirely unconventional. It seemed to follow a mostly linear structure, with flashbacks and small asides that supported the central narrative. It's definitely a character rather than plot driven novel and is more interested in exploring than resolving mysteries, the latter of which, I guess, is less common.


Daniel Eavenson (dannyeaves) | 127 comments Yeah i think it's pretty interesting that people saw her transformation as a positive one, but by her own admission what was happening to her was destructive to herself, body and mind. I think it's because she describes it as brightness and a flowering and that kind of language, but the reality was more debasing and destructive.

@Ruth said "I didn't really consider her to suffer from mental illness...she seemed quite intelligent in recognizing the ills” That’s the thing about mental illness. While it’s happening it can feel euphoric while your life is disintegrating around you, and you might even describe things that would seem harmful to someone else as beautiful and creative. How many artists talk about insomnia and voices and their inability to communicate like normal people but they turn that into work that's amazing, but it doesn't mean that they are healthy. Or unhealthy since obviously it's up to that person and the people who care for them to decide what works. I guess I just mean that a person’s ability to cope or the things they produce are not indicators of their mental wellbeing. In my own life its expressed by me having to remind people that depressed folks can still smile. And yeah maybe trigger warnings is too much.

@Rich said “Your post is really fascinating, as is your reaction to the book. I agree with Brendan that it seems to speak to the quality of the book that it was this powerful for you, though of course that is not necessarily the same as enjoying the experience.” I agree. I did think the book is at least constructed well, but I ultimately didn’t like it for the way it ended. I sort of managed to pull myself away from thanks to the unsatisfactory nature of the end. But basically from the point of the book where she starts to remember her past life and looks into that wading pool with the big gold starfish I was viscerally effected. Then when she makes a little fake narrative about the lighthouse keeper that I fell out of it and crashed pretty hard. But people have said in other threads that the Biologist is interesting and the rest of the story not so much. I guess that’s where I ultimately fall.


Michele | 1154 comments I'm with Ruth, I didn't see her as having a mental illness, just introverted. Also I didn't have any trouble with the structure of the plot, the basic story seemed to progress in a believable way for me through the frame of journal entries.

I don't think the spores improve her, but Area X does make what she (and others) considered a drawback into a strength. Which is kind of empowering in a weird way. To take away her competence and intelligence in Area X and make it a degeneration into destructive madness kind of ruins the entire story for me, or changes it into literary naval gazing, or something that turns me off.

I put it mentally in the speculative fiction genre when I started it, which means weirdness and unreal things are totally in the realm of possibility for the story, not signals of insanity.

@Daniel, I can totally see that if the story read that way to you, it would be awful and upsetting.


Andrew J. | 54 comments Brendan wrote: "It sounds like it must have been a very good book to have affected you so deeply."

I know, right?! Am I the only one that felt like I was slowly being taken over by the monsters inside me. This book was super creepy and made me feel very uncomfortable, which I believe is one of the points of the books, at least, tone-wise. There was no real resolution to this book, but it is part of a trilogy, so who knows.


Joanna Chaplin | 1175 comments Andy wrote: "Am I the only one that felt like I was slowly being taken over by the monsters inside me."

I didn't feel that way in the first book, but when I read Authority, I started being afraid of reading the words from inside the tower, half-convinced that they were a corrupting influence. I mean, like, I was deliberately skimming over them on the page because part of me was convinced that they were going to rewrite part of my brain.


Rob Secundus (quintessential_defenestration) | 1035 comments Joanna wrote: when I read Authority, I started being afraid of reading the words from inside the tower, half-convinced that they were a corrupting influence. I mean, like, I was deliberately skimming over them on the page because part of me was convinced that they were going to rewrite part of my brain. "

I read them over and over, highlighted them in a different color so I could quickly find every single instance of them again and again, and focused throughout the entire trilogy on decoding them. So. Your fears may have been well founded.


Trike | 5533 comments If this book affected people this way, there are a whole slew of books you should probably avoid. I don't get the "non-standard" thing, though. The plot is basic but it's there. There's nothing the least bit experimental about it.

Anyway, don't read anything by Robert Charles Wilson or your brain will melt. John Varley has some books like this, notably the Gaia series. Then of course there is Veronica's favorite, Stanislaw Lem, with pretty much everything he writes. (I would submit that the movie adaptations of Solaris are better versions of this story, although the original novel is not.)

Philip K. Dick is likewise someone who messes with the form until you don't know what is up and what is down because his prose creeps into your mind and twists around your brain stem.

Thee are certainly other authors who have written things like this (Roger Zelazny's Roadmarks comes to mind. Boy, talk about a non-standard narration!), but pretty much anything from the mid-1960s until about the 1981 that has one of those op-art covers should probably be avoided.


message 12: by Sky (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sky | 663 comments Trike wrote: "If this book affected people this way, there are a whole slew of books you should probably avoid. I don't get the "non-standard" thing, though. The plot is basic but it's there. There's nothing the..."

Or Robert Anton Wilson :)


Trike | 5533 comments Nah, he's perfectly normal. He's like reading Suess.


Nicholaus Patnaude | 8 comments Daniel wrote: "I almost feel like we should add a trigger warning or something to this month’s book pick. It's written in such a different style that I found it very dangerous to my calm more than a subject of h..."

I like your description of this book as "chaos narrative." That's an original and brilliant insight. Particularly at the end, this novel spirals into uncharted territories. It's too bad that it frightened you to the point where you could no longer enjoy it though.


Nicholaus Patnaude | 8 comments Rich wrote: "Your post is really fascinating, as is your reaction to the book. I agree with Brendan that it seems to speak to the quality of the book that it was this powerful for you, though of course that is ..."

I agree, Rich. I wouldn't call this novel experimental, but it definitely defies tropes and twists our expectations of them, as you pointed out. This was also one my favorite aspects of the book. I was continually surprised and perplexed by it, but as a reader I like to be shocked and stunned by moments of utter originality and oddness.


Nicholaus Patnaude | 8 comments Joanna wrote: "Andy wrote: "Am I the only one that felt like I was slowly being taken over by the monsters inside me."

I didn't feel that way in the first book, but when I read Authority, I start..."


You've got me intrigued by Authority, Joanna. This novel certainly contained shades of an incomprehensible darkness that could rewire the brain as well, maybe due to its ability to confound expectations--and, IMO, on a much more profound level than Lost ever could.


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