Annihilation – Jeff Vandermeer
Annihilation is intriguing and vivid and unique. The details and pacing are eerie and suspenseful. At a glance it’s the exact kind of thing I could imagine myself being really into. At 195 pages this book should make for a quick and easy read but it trudges along, less fast paced action and more ambiance description and inner monologue. The writing tends to get droning and heavy and I had to be in a very persistent frame of mind to get through a chapter in one sitting. Ultimately it took me months of putting off and picking it back up before I finished the book out of sheer, ‘I don’t like to DNF’, determination.
The problem for me was that while there are grabbing and interesting moments, it often felt like nothing happened except description for far too long between actual events. Or the things that did happen were so small and so spaced out, not a whole lot seemed significant or exciting.
It probably doesn’t help that I watched the movie first which is the exact worst set up for this book. I thought, of course, I have to read the book in order to get more depth and insight from the original work that would be missing in the movie… I mean, it did but there’s also less of the qualities that made the movie so interesting.
If you, like me, are hoping for a read that resembles the movie – this is not really that.
And it probably shouldn’t be compared but I couldn’t help comparing it, so it will be.
It doesn’t help that you don’t get much of a sense of any of the characters, other than the biologist. They start to disappear so quickly into the book without much inkling of personality or desire or anything really but shells of characters that are there and gone with a blink. I preferred the movie in that regard. The building up of the characters, investing more time in them before they are taken, one way or another.
The fact that they’re essentially puppets from the beginning of the book only adds to the frustration of this. And with the way that the story plays out you start to feel like you probably aren’t getting the best sense of the biologist’s full character either. Don’t get me wrong, her characterization is full and believable – I think it’s why the writing style can feel so monotonous and report like at times, sterile and cold (which does not help you feel for or particularly like the character). But it’s also unreliable. She is so quickly in the influence of the psychologist and then Area X that it feels as though we can’t be sure we really ever got to know the main protagonist either, despite hearing everything from her perspective.
In the movie we are less close, and that separation allows us to physically see her before and after entering Area X. We see and get a sense of who she is in a way that feels solid, less open to interpretation. In the book she recalls herself but in a situation where you can’t really be sure how much of herself is already under the influence of Area X and how much of her version of events and herself is intact. How much is truth and how much is unreliable? Sure, we get more in some ways, the details of her past life; relationships and childhood, but we get it with far less certainty.
Without connection to any character I don’t find I can hold interest in a book. Relying on description, mystery and vagueness without those character intricacies and connections, just doesn’t work for me.
The ending in the book I actually found more satisfying than in the movie. You don’t get answers and we seemed to be set up for that from the beginning. I actually enjoyed that aspect in the book where I found it frustrating in the movie. The biologist doesn’t seem to return home. She ventures instead to a place where she might find some remnant of her husband. And it’s those last moments of the book, oddly, where I feel like she is the most understandable and emotional, humanized. It’s almost hopeful.
– 2/5 An undeniably full, unique, eerie and atmospheric experience but lacking in the kind of character connection and understanding I typically like. Good where some parts of the movie is bad. Bad where some parts of the movie is good.
Buy it – Annihilation