book review
3 Stars, Book Reviews

{REVIEW} Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Annihilation, Book 1 of the ‘Southern Reach’ series by Jeff VanderMeer

(Click the book cover to see on Goodreads)
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Title: Annihilation
Author: Jeff Vandermeer
Length: 195 pages
Publication: February 4th 2014 by FSG Originals

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.

point of view
‘Annihilation’ is written in first person past tense limited with the narrator known only by her title: ‘biologist’. The lack of name creates a barrier between the reader and the narrator. It offers a more objective voice to the narration as opposed to the common subjective voice of first person. Though, the narrator often leaves out items such as personal feelings and actual experiences in an attempt to be more subjective, creating an unfaithful narrator.

Pacing: The pacing of the novel bounces back and forth between fast, eye-grabbing scenes and slow, mind-activating scenes. It makes for a nice mix that turns this short novel into a fast read. It also offers the reader time to breathe before drawing them in and gluing them to the page.

World: The world was limited to a small part known as Area X, which is a sprawling landscape of wild nature untouched by humans for decades. This particular area is given enough detail to be a world all on its own. Yet, there are many things that are unexplained about the world. Even the narrator doesn’t fully understand nor explain them, leaving the reader in a mass of confusion about what exactly lives within Area X. Thus, the world is both crystal clear in some parts and obscure in others.

Writing: The writing is very straight forward, explaining each detail with utter precision. After all, it’s written as an objective viewpoint from the main character, who gives clear description of everything she encounters and sees. Action scenes were clear and easily imaginable. Yet, within this clarity, there is a sense of vague ambiguity about the world and its happenings, that can’t be explained no matter how well-written the book is.

Non-Spoilered Plot: Eleven expeditions have been sent into Area X. Yet not all of them made it out alive and even those who have, have offered no explanation about what really exists within the confined area. Even with the possible dangers, a twelfth expedition is being sent. It was originally believed to be for curiosity’s sake, but something darker may be lingering within the acres of land in Area X. And not all of them can be explained.


Character: The main character is given no distinguishing qualities other than she’s a woman and a biologist. Everything else is left to the wind. As a result, it’s difficult to envision the character and even harder to understand her personality. Though, her personality is lacking in general in the main character’s attempts to be objective about everything she’s seeing and experiencing while in Area X. All in all, it’s difficult to understand who the main character is and much less whether or not she’s even a reliable narrator.

Plot: I can’t tell if the main plot of the novel is ‘the quest’ or ‘overcoming the monster’. Perhaps it’s a mixture of both because the narrator, known as the biologist, sets off into Area X to study the strange landscape and report her findings. Yet, along the way, she finds herself fighting for her sanity and her life as the darker workings of Area X become known. But… the inner workings of Area X don’t truly become known and that’s my biggest problem with this book.

The entire book gives signs of something strange, possibly malevolent, living within Area X. This is only natural given the mysterious circumstances surrounding the deaths and reappearances of previous expedition members. The sense of danger is heightened by the way the biologist reacts to the ‘tower’ and how she feels compelled to call it something particular, despite what the other members call it. These same foreboding interactions continue when it becomes known that the psychologist is hypnotizing the other members of the expedition. Yet no answers are given as to why she does this or why the biologist sees it as a ‘tower’.

These details among others (such as the chaotic scene of the lighthouse, the strange whereabouts of the anthropologist, the disappearance and reappearance of the psychologist, etc, etc) draw the reader in. They peak the interest. It makes people want to know more, want to know what’s going on, want answers… But no answers are given. That is the most irksome thing about this book is the lack of answers, like the entire book was just a tease.

Even the ending feels like such a cop out because while the biologist finally faces the strange writer in the depths of the ‘tower’, she gives no clear explanation for what it looks like, much less what it is. Even the scene where it attacks her is maddeningly confusing. And while the book comes to a form of resolution, nothing feels resolved or answered. It’s for this reason that I leave my rating of this novel, ‘Annihilation’, at three stars.three

Have you read ‘Annihilation’? What’d you think of it?
Let me know in the comments below!

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