Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy

Jeff Vandermeer

Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner I shall bring forth the seeds of the dead to share with the worms that gather in the darkness and surround the world with the power of their lives while from the dimlit halls of other places forms that never were and never could be writhe for the impatience of the few who never saw what could have been. In the black water with...

The Southern Reach Trilogy is a collection of three smaller books detailing one continuous story. I read them each individually but I feel like they're only really complete as the full set. If you look up the series, it's classified as "science fiction", but Vandermeer's writing defies a genre as static as that. The prose is vivid and Lovecraftian, a page-turning hallucination.

Reading Annihilation felt like napping through a fever dream loosely based on reality. A thickly woven atmostphere covers the book and makes you squint and peer to try to figure out what the shapes are on the hoizon. Our main character doesn't have clear perception of what's going on, and neither do we. It's a book of things that are impossible to describe, but Jeff VanderMeer manages to impress the gravity of the encounters in the mysteriously named Area X.

The reading experience mirrors the experience of the protagonist, a biologist sent out into Area X as part of the an expedition with a collection of other women. Each member of the team brings certain skills for a mission without many details. Their impromptu leader, a psychiatrist, guides them with a combination of suggestion and hypnosis into a deceptively serene landscape. As the party explores the strange structures nearby, the narrators perceptions seem to shift and bend as if you're looking at a surrealist painting.

In Authority, we pick up the Southern Reach trilogy with a new character, John "Control", who has been made director of the agency. I described the first book as a fever dream and the second book shows that the dreamscape extends beyonds the borders of Area X. Throughout the course of the book we get a little more illumination about what happened before the 12th expedition, but the effect that Vandermeer gives us is more like a flashlight across dark corners than actual detail. The atmosphere of the book is better for this, but I came away a little disappointed because I felt like I couldn't hold any part of the book in my hands and explain what happened.

Acceptance, the final book of the Southern Reach trilogy left me satisfied, but if you asked me to tell you why I couldnt tell you. We stay with our protagonist Control from the last book and meet a strange new version of past characters. They return to Area X and we get some semblance of closure, connecting dots between the first and second books but still retaining this feverish quality where nothing seems quite stable enough to believe. This mirrors a lot of the charcters feelings but after three books, I'm wasn't exactly asking for more uncertainty. The bset part of this trilogy has been the prose itself, not neccesarily the characters or events. I've included a couple of my favorite quotes that I feel really capture the feeling of the writing.

Perhaps so many journals had piled up in the lighthouse because on some level most came, in time, to recognize the futility of language. Not just in Area X but against the rightness of the lived-in moment, the instant of touch, of connection for which words were such a sorrowful disappointment, so inadequate an expression of both the finite and the infinite.

Bodies could be beacons, too, Saul knew. A lighthouse was a fixed beacon for a fixed purpose; a person was a moving one. But people still emanated light in their way, still shone across the miles as a warning, an invitation, or even just a static signal. People opened up so they became a brightness, or they went dark. They turned their light inward sometimes, so you couldn’t see it, because they had no other choice.

The effect of this cannot be understood without being there. The beauty of it cannot be understood, either, and when you see beauty in desolation it changes something inside you. Desolation tries to colonize you.


608 pages
Published 2014
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