The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer (Annhilation, Authority, Acceptance)
In Annihilation we meet the biologist, clumsy with language, often reactive. Lacking nomination as part of a greater social experiment. Through her somewhat awkwardly dispassionate gaze we are introduced to a world that is secretly being cleansed by an unknown force. A force which, in spite of its clear ability to fix that which humans have broken, is being resisted by the Southern Reach.
In Authority we meet Control. Another dispassionate voice lacking nomination whose slow battle with self-control, and exerting control, is overwhelmed, literally and figuratively, by the secrets of Area X and the terror (terroir) of the Southern Reach. Control, who is given back his name (takes back?) as he navigates being dropped into a social construct dependent on secrets, lies, and machinations, none of which he is part of.
In Acceptance we are finally introduced to Area X, and to an island, and (in a way that at times felt a little too pat) we are given the answers. In a drastic shift from the first two books, we are presented with four narrative voices, voices embodying their nomination, inalienable from notions of self, which shed light into all the dark corners and uncertain spaces, onto the leaps of internal logic that might otherwise have problematized the world-building in this trilogy. And of course we are shown the truth of Area X, its inception, growth, and purpose.
I did not read the omnibus edition of this series, and in fact, discovered the series via a Netgalley request for Annhilation, a request which has the expectation of a review of the book as it is. That said, I have found myself unable to consider them as separate books. Having read the whole series (which I don’t always do before a review) I feel more certain than ever that to review them individually is to do a disservice to their inherent symbiosis, and to the fact that that symbiosis is part and parcel of the overall power of the series and is tied exquisitely to the thematic arc of the trilogy. Even those things which I struggled with as a critical reader (disruptions in grammar or phrasing) have a commonality across all three books and are clearly designed, differently in each instance, to emphasize the character of the narrator. The shift and slide from magical realism into the space of normalcy is seamless and compelling throughout these novels, no matter the voice, and is, in my opinion, the most interesting aspect. VanderMeer maintains differing narrative voices while creating the same narrative shifts throughout the series and it is a fascinating and ingenious display of craft.
An amazing and engaging read on many levels, if this series is not on your to-read list, it should be.
Published 2015 by FSG Originals