I use the word “manipulate,” because this reading experience isn’t always easy. VanderMeer gives the narration of the story to a nameless scientist, referred to only as The Biologist. In the style of a journal entry, she maintains a nearly emotionless, analytical tone throughout. This serves to heighten the extremely creepy nature of the story, but also keeps the reader at a significant distance from characters.
Mr. VanderMeer’s protagonist is self-described as extremely solitary, preferring her observations of isolated environments to human interaction. She is irrevocably distant from the humans in her life, as well as from the reader. If I had written this review about halfway through the book, I might have said that there was nobody in the story to like or sympathize with. Thankfully, a single scene at the very end redeems our main character and creates the necessary bridge to the reader.
MINOR SPOILERS BELOW
The plot is the standard “group of people encounter something alien and inexplicable, then are killed off, one by one, as they deal with hallucinated (or not?) monsters, self-doubt, internal conspiracy, and the breakdown of social order.” I’m not always a big fan of this device, usually because the resolution lands somewhere in the “esoteric philosophical statement” arena without providing any identification of the “big bad” or substantive resolution. Annihilation at least leans towards some firm answers and gives us a number of very tangible clues along the way.
In the end, I believe I can recommend Annihilation with some qualifications. The key to its enjoyment is in reconciling that beauty and desolation we discussed earlier. Beautiful prose, beautiful world building . . . desolate characters, desolate outlook, desolate tone. All wrapped up in hypnotic, unrelenting suspense. It is the primary reason why I stayed with Annihilation to the end and will likely continue on to read the sequels. The more answers I was given, the more questions I had.
Beautiful, desolate questions.
Carolyn McCormick (you may also know her from The Hunger Games trilogy from Scholastic Audio)absolutely embodies my vision of the main character in this book. She carries off the scientific / observational tone perfectly. Her level, almost emotion-free, narrative heightens the overall creepiness of the story.
I have a slight complaint about some off-phrasing between sentences at times; sometimes rushing through sections that feel like they should have more of a suspenseful pause, but this is only a 2 or 3 on my scale of listening annoyance.
I’m not sure I would be as inclined to continue on in this series if I had merely read the book. Ms. McCormick’s performance is a huge factor in my wish to hear more of this story. Great performance by a great reader.