May 13 2019

Acceptance (Southern Reach #3) by Jeff VanderMeer

Honestly, I don’t think it’s possible to do a competent review of this book without spoilers, so you’ve been warned, dear reader, spoilers abound ahead!

The third book in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy is by far the weirdest. Whereas Annihilation was a love story in a creepy sci-fi expedition setting, and Authority was a gothic horror of bureaucracy at the edge of the unknown, Acceptance is a sort of explanation of how Area X came to be and where it might be going next, as told through the viewpoints of the Director, Ghost Bird, Control and the Lighthouse Keeper, Saul. It’s a heavily metaphysical look at science fiction, done in such a way that I finally get some of the choices made for the dreadful movie adaptation of the first in series.

Basically, it’s aliens. But aliens so much smarter and more technologically advanced that everything we experience in Area X is difficult for us with our tiny human minds to quantify. Mr VanderMeer tries to capture that sense of incapacity with references to brightnesses and music and quasi-religious ecstasies that are then juxtaposed with scenes of monstrosity and horror. It works only inasmuch as anything doomed to failure can work. He conveys the indescribability of it all by not being able to adequately describe it all.

A lot of readers will dig that kind of thing; I’m not 100% certain that I did. One thing I’ve learned about his writing, tho, is that it tends to grow in the imagination long after you’ve put the books down. So I can’t say that I didn’t like the book, or even rate it as less than good, but it felt as if it was constantly verging on narrative collapse simply because we’re not meant to understand what’s happening. Props to Mr Vandermeer for making the attempt, but it was less entertaining for me as a novel than as a thought experiment with a narrative structure.

Laura is even more scathing in her review of the series here.

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