52 Book Challenge: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

29 Apr


{Proceed with caution, light spoilers all up in this bitch}

We meet again, Jeff VanderMeer. I have been putting off reading his books even though he is a prolific and well-known author in one of my favorite genres, New Weird. Why? Because he has said some catty things about China Mieville, and I worship at the altar of China Mieville. He is our lord and savior. But seriously, I think it is very offputting when one author disses another in the introduction to a collection the second author is in. Yeah, in the introduction to The New Weird, VanderMeer (or his wife, I’ve held this grudge for a while so I don’t really remember) take a small shot at Mieville… and then includes one of Mieville’s stories. Tacky. Also, I hold grudges forever and tend to be very serious over trivial things. I skipped 4 or 5 seasons of Project Runway because of an incident I only vaguely recall.

So, moving on to more relevant things, I lifted the grudge curtain because this book contains… an apocalypse! And not just a regular one like nuclear holocaust or flooding or zombies. It’s a ~mystery apocalypse~. Something happened in the southern reaches of America and weird things are afoot! I am so sold. Hitler could write an apocalypse book and I would pay to read it. I mean, it would also be written by a zombie so that would be neat too.

I’m gonna start with the good. There are wonderfully strange things going on in Annihilation. The main character, a woman who remains nameless throughout the entire novel, encounters a tunnel in the ground with glowing fungus writing on the wall. There’s a strange lighthouse the exploration team is drawn to. No one can remember crossing the border into Area X. Every night the air is alive with howling and screaming. And, most oddly, Ghost Bird (the only nickname our MC ever gets), was married to a previous member of an Area X expedition: he came back, but he was not quite… the same.

Everything strange going on here is magnificent. Especially in the two towers (one a tunnel, one the lighthouse). The descriptions are lush and contain just enough to get your spine tingling without giving away too much. But the description of the… thing in the tower skirts dangerously close to Lovecraft-derivative. It is a fine line to walk between “original weird” and “Lovecraft weird” and this book teeters right along it. I mean, some people can plunge headfirst into Lovecraft weird while still keeping an original voice (Laird Barron, anyone?) but at times here I felt like I was in the middle of a Lovecraft story I’d already read.

But most annoyingly the characters are horribly, depressingly flat. There are 4 members of the expedition and Ghost Bird’s husband. None are named. There are no other characters. It seems like a promising decision: desolate, full of despair, isolating. But no one is rounded out very much, and I feel like we are sitting in a cardboard cutout watching all the weirdness happen around us. I had trouble connecting to any of the action or mayhem because I was so detached from it. I feel like with more character work this would have been so brilliant. It could have been visceral and terrifying and brutal, but instead it was just kinda cool. I do keep thinking about the “tower” and some of the imagery was striking. His writing is very lush. But without the touch of humanity… I ended up disappointed. There are more books planned in this series (which is nice, because there are no answers in Annihilation–just a lot of questions), and I will definitely read them. I just hope the main characters have more life than Ghost Bird.


Annihilation Book 29

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

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85 Responses to “52 Book Challenge: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer”

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