Jeff VanderMeer’s ANNIHILATION
A book review by Dennis D. McDonald
This short novel is a beautifully written but unsettling example of speculative fiction. It's also possible to call it “science fiction” since references to biology and natural sciences are spread throughout.
The main character is a biologist. Her approach to experiencing “Area X,” the strange, isolated, and deceptively “natural” area that she had a team of female researchers set out to explore, is as a scientist. Yet her first person observations of the strange and sometimes terrifying goings-on during this expedition are more personal and emotional than scientific.
Therein lies the parallel between this book and the movie of the same name. Despite the story elements of the book and movie being different, the psychological and behavioral characteristics of the two are quite similar.
The main character of the movie, the biologist portrayed by Natalie Portman, is a starkly perceptive portrayal of the book’s biologist. In both media the main character has a challenging personality, a teetering marriage, a husband who returns home one day after a long and unexplained absence, and a tendency to hide the truth. Portman’s performance must have been informed by a very close reading and appreciation of the novel.
The divergence between the story elements in the book and the movie I found to be easily accommodated as I read. Certain subtleties discussed or minimally referenced in the book were made more threatening and visceral in the movie. The movie’s director and screenwriters, also, are more judicious in their use of flashbacks than in the original novel.
While my reading of the book and appreciating it have definitely been informed by having seen the movie, the book can, I believe, stand on its own.
I look forward to reading the next two books in this “Southern Reach” trilogy and am just as curious about what happens to the characters as I am about the origins of "Area X."
Review copyright 2018 by Dennis D. McDonald