I have owned a copy of the Southern Reach trilogy (the bind-up is titled Area X) for probably close to two years. It was one of those books I’d vaguely remembered hearing about and I was attracted to the title, so I grabbed it because it was on sale. And then it sat in my TBR pile until recently. Blame the movie trailer – seriously, it looks really good! – but I felt the sudden need to finally read Annihilation. So I did.
(All reviews are spoiler-free unless otherwise noted.)
(From Goodreads) Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.
This is the twelfth expedition.
Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.
They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.
Annihilation is definitely a unique book, both in story and style. I appreciated it’s originality, but I’m also still not quite sure what I read. It felt vaguely hallucinogenic, but was told very matter-of-factly. It was a strange juxtaposition, and while I did appreciate the novelty of it, I wouldn’t say I particularly enjoyed it. It took me longer than I expected to read this book, because I could only read a few pages of it at a time before getting impatient. I wanted action, and most of the conflict happened offstage, so to speak.
The story itself was surprisingly boring. Honestly, the movie trailer for the adaptation is more exciting than this entire novel. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I wanted so much more from this story. I think it had potential to be something really great, but it fell flat. Everything felt disconnected, and I really don’t think the – minor spoiler – unreliable narrator worked well here. Instead of a mystery or adventure or thriller, I was left thinking, “What the hell did I just read?” And not in a good way. Even for the first book in a trilogy, there were too many unanswered questions for my taste.
This was a very strange reading experience in that so many of the things I disliked about this book were obviously deliberate. The author pushed boundaries, and I’m still debating as to whether or not he pulled it off. The characters were flat and distant, but, then, that was kind of the point. I appreciate rule-breaking in writing when it’s done well. And, in this case, I’m not convinced. Maybe the author was trying to do too much at once, but, at the end of the day this turned out to be an interesting story told in the most boring way possible.
★★★☆☆ – Annihilation was a three-star read for me. It wasn’t terrible, but I didn’t love it. I will probably continue on with the trilogy, but, to be honest, that’s mostly because I already own the whole thing and I’m hoping it gets better.
Have you read Annihilation? What did you think of it? (And if you have read it, what do you think of the movie trailer in relation to the book?)
Annihilation is available in bookstores – and Amazon – now.
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