A team of four women – a biologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and an anthropologist – are sent into a mysterious region called Area X. All they know is that there have been eleven previous expeditions. One ending with every member of the team killing themselves, and another with the team all killing each other. Those who managed to returned from Area X had no memory of their time there. The group has been trained to survive and to deal with the unexpected, and each member must keep a journal during their time there.
Perhaps my only real expertise, my only talent, is to endure beyond the endurable.
None of the characters in this are named, but we follow the biologist’s journal as she experiences the oddities of the area and keeps an eye on her team members. This is quite oddly written with incredibly stunted dialogue, but in the context of it being an epistolary novel, that does make some sense. I find it a bit jarring when you’re reading someone’s supposed journal entry or letter and they’re recounted pages and pages of exact dialogue in perfect detail. I’m re-reading Frankenstein right now, and while I know it’s just a framing device that can be excused, it’s still like come on now. I can barely remember the beginning of my sentence by the time I’m nearing the end of it.
So, in my mind, the dialogue worked perfectly for this particular story, although I can see how it would drive some people crazy. It doesn’t help that the biologist is about as charismatic as a doormat, but I think her dull nature is an interesting contrast to the world around her. I really like her as a character, but in any other novel she would have bored me to tears. In this it helps set a still and disturbing atmosphere, which is really where this novel shines. It’s incredible eerie, and I was never sure what was going to happen next. Some of the revelations throughout the novel genuinely took me by surprise and really made me want to read on.
This is the first in the Southern Reach trilogy, and I’ll definitely be reading on. Annihilation didn’t feel like a complete story, just the beginning of something larger, which is somewhat annoying. All three of the novels were published in 2014, though, so it’s hard to complain too much about that.