written by: Liam Watts
I love mysteries, and I love questions. I love the feeling of hunting down answers, turning the pieces over in my mind and trying to put it all together, the feeling of a chase. If I’m being honest, though, it’s not just because I love the thrill of discovery, but also because I love being right. I hope some of you can relate. Now, what I’ve learned while pondering mysteries and questions is that not all elusive questions are created equally elusive. In fact, the more time I’ve spent examining mysteries, the more I’ve learned that some of them are actively fighting to remain mysterious. Recently, I read the first book of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, Annihilation, and this is exactly the kind of mystery at the heart of the story. Think of it like an onion. Peeling each layer reveals more of the whole, but rather than reaching an inevitable center, after peeling enough layers one eventually just destroys the onion. It’s almost as if the act of trying to uncover the answer to the question only causes it to slip further into obfuscation.
I’ll say right off the bat that Annihilation won’t appeal to everyone. First, it’s a fusion of multiple genres: equal parts mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, thriller, and travelogue. Secondly, it is incredibly strange. For example, over the course of the story we never learn anyone’s name, it often shifts dramatically in perspective and time, and nothing really makes sense until the end… sort of. This book has been getting a ton of attention recently because it was adapted into a movie by the same name, but the movie is quite different as it draws material from all three books in the trilogy. Still, if you’re willing to stick with it, there’s a ton of intriguing nuggets to unearth here, and it will remain with you for a while.
Like everything else about the book itself, describing Annihilation is a bit confusing. To explain it simply, what you’re reading is the journal of a biologist, who along with her team, is sent to investigate Area X. Area X is an ever-expanding boundary that threatens to eventually overtake the entire world. No one is sure what Area X is, or who created it. The only thing anyone has learned is that inside the boundary, nature, and life itself, is no longer exactly how it used to be. Everything is in a process of changing. And, that’s about it, or at least that’s all I’m willing to say. To tell you any more would be robbing you of the chance to peel this delightful onion for yourself.
What I really loved about Annihilation is that I’ve been thinking about it ever since I first picked it up. In fact, I couldn’t even put it down the first time I read it, tearing through the book in a single afternoon. In my opinion, both of these are hallmarks of good literature. It’s not just something you read and forget about, for it becomes something to think over, to talk about, and to question. That is why I enjoyed this book so much and want to recommend it to you. Annihilation is a mystery to chase and a question to ponder; that is why I give it a hearty five out of five onions for excellence.