Wednesday 8 July 2015


Book review: Annihilation (Southern Reach #1) by Jeff VanderMeer

My edition: Hardcover, published on 27 February 2014 by Fourth Estate, 195 pages.

Description: For thirty years, Area X has remained mysterious, remote, and concealed by the government as an environmental disaster zone even though it is to all appearances pristine wilderness. For thirty years, too, the secret agency known as the Southern Reach has monitored Area X and sent in expeditions to try to discover the truth. Some expeditions have suffered terrible consequences. Others have reported nothing out of the ordinary. Now, as Area X seems to be changing and perhaps expanding, the next expedition will attempt to succeed where all others have failed. What is happening in Area X? What is the true nature of the invisible border that surrounds it?

Annihilation tells the story of the twelfth expedition through the narration of a nameless biologist attached to the mission. A reticent, solitary woman, the biologist brings her own personal secrets with her. She is accompanied by a psychologist, anthropologist, and surveyor, their stated mission to chart the wilderness, take samples, and expand the Southern Reach’s understanding of Area X.

But they soon find out that the information given to them about Area X is incomplete or inaccurate, and that they are being manipulated by forces both strange and all too familiar. The old abandoned lighthouse on the coast is more than it seems. A moaning in the distance at dusk appears to have no natural cause. A tunnel plunging into the ground isn’t on any map.

In Area X, they will all find out what it truly means to face the unknown. Adapt or die.


It doesn't happen often that the opportunity arises for me to discover a series of novels that has been out for a while already. The majority, if not all, of the books I read are for review (I rarely have the time to pick up the novels I buy and get gifted along the way!) and are usually not published yet or have only been out for a few days or weeks. And so when Lovereading offered the opportunity to review the first novel in the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, I was thrilled to have the chance to discover a whole new series - and one that sounded immensely intriguing at that.

For decades Area X has been abandoned by its original inhabitants because strange things happen there. Systematically government agency Southern Reach has been sending expeditions to uncover the secrets of Area X, but even if some of the people come back (and in many cases they don't), they seem altered and little of their reports make sense or is actually useful to help determine what's going on in Area X.

Annihilation tells the story of the latest expedition, which is made up of a psychologist, a surveyor, an anthropologist and the protagonist, a biologist. The four women within the 12th expedition are nameless, as Southern Reach believes names would only distract from the mission, but watching the bizarre story unfold through the biologists' eyes the reader still gets a good sense of who these people are, even if some die within moments of entering Area X...

This is undoubtedly a well written novel that has an immense sense of place and tension rippling throughout the pages, but ye gods I was so confused! A mysterious underground tower made out of living organism, a Crawler writing cryptic messages with poisonous flora, a smiling dolphin, and the biologists' disturbing connection to the previous expedition - I'm still not sure about half of the stuff that possibly happened. I do have some theories but don't think I can muster up the energy to read another two novels for the revelations, if they are to come at all.

Annihilation has a promising premise, that's for sure, but there is such a thing as being too ambiguous and VanderMeer has, to me, unfortunately tipped too far into that direction with the first installment in his Southern Reach trilogy.

You can purchase the novel from Waterstones, or your own preferred retailer.

Would you like to know more about the author? You can connect with him online at:


Twitter: @jeffvandermeer

Many thanks to the publisher for a copy of the novel through Lovereading in exchange for an honest review.

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