This is the conclusion to Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy. While I enjoyed this far more than the last installment, and found it went by relatively quickly, I still wasn’t able to recover some of what made Annihilation so wonderful. (Spoilers for book one and two ahead.)
Here, we follow Control and Ghost Bird after they’ve crossed back into Area X. There are three alternating timelines. Saul, the lighthouse keeper, tells his side of the story before Area X becomes Area X, the Director tells her part of the story prior to the Twelfth Expedition, and the current timeline, following Ghost Bird and Control.
Surprisingly, for a VanderMeer book, we receive a lot of answers about Area X and how it came to be (and what it might be). This was oddly satisfying for a change, as I’ve been accustomed to him not providing any clear, definitive answers, similar to a J.J. Abrams plot.
I thoroughly enjoyed the story lines of Control and Ghost Bird. I enjoyed parts of Saul’s story, mostly at the beginning of the book. After awhile his voice became tiresome and redundant. Similar to Saul, I liked the Director’s story at the beginning, but ultimately didn’t feel that her viewpoint contributed anything new. (Side note: all of the Director’s passages are written in second person. I couldn’t quite figure out why. I think it would have been more interesting to read Ghost Bird’s passages in second person, being that she isn’t really anyone at all, a copy of someone else, and maybe it would have been easier to assume her identity as a reader.) There wasn’t enough of Control and Ghost Bird to carry the whole novel.
In part two we finally find out what happened to the Biologist. This was by far the most interesting part and I’m glad that Vandermeer did her justice by not leaving us with any hanging questions as to her story. This book was worth reading for her part alone.
I found reading this particular book more difficult than his other works. If I had been tested for comprehension I’m fairly certain I would have failed. Where Annihilation was neat and trim, with words never being wasted, I found a lot of language in this book feeling flowery or overly descriptive. It leads the reader away from the point, away from the story, makes the story difficult to follow, especially when you are already bored and your mind might be wandering. Add to that, difficult vocabulary, and it just felt needlessly difficult.
I’m glad I finished the series, if for no other reason than to find out what happened to the Biologist, but I think I’ll be wary of starting any trilogies or series by VanderMeer in the future. He seems to do best with stand-alone novels (and I think Annihilation would have worked perfectly fine as a standalone).