I’ve never been much of a science fiction person. I like to read Fitzgerald, beautiful books in which people mainly drink cocktails and complain about being rich. However, the great thing about joining a book club is getting to read the books you never would have picked yourself. Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer was definitely one of those picks!
The novel, which is the first part of the Southern Reach trilogy, evolves around an expedition to Area X. An area that stretches far beyond the border of the world in which the protagonist lives.
Southern Reach is a secret agency that initiates the expeditions to Area X, an abandoned area where nature seems to have rather strange habits.
The expedition exists of women only, something I found interesting to see coming out of the pen of a male author. None of the women involved in the expedition have names, the lead character is simply known as ‘the biologist’, which immediately sets the tone for the mystery that is continuous throughout the book. Together with her colleagues (which includes, among others, a rather nasty psychologist), the biologist is supposed to explore Area X, something which former expeditions have apparently failed to do.
Area X has several buildings that need to be explored, such as a lighthouse and an underground tower. The tower, or tunnel as some call it, turns out to be a living organism, infectious and dangerous to all that enter too deep. The way the strange flora and fauna of Area X is described is very visual and uses the uncanny as an interesting tool. It is all familiar, but also estranged.
It’s refreshing, that while many strange and unexplainable things happen, the novel rarely turns spiritual or supernatural. While sometimes on the edge of going too far for me (dolphins with human eyes, anyone?), the novel is certainly a page turner, using elements of horror in a beautifully described landscape. Besides being an exciting book to read, there’s a lot more to it than just the weird things happening – it turned out there’s much more depth to the main character than I expected at first. Perhaps this novel finally opened my mind to some more science fiction – I’m certainly curious to see what happens in the other two parts of the trilogy!