Have you ever asked yourself this question after finishing a book? I just did.
To be honest, I don’t read a lot of “recommended” books. Not because I don’t trust other readers, but because I know my reading tastes. That said, when one of my friends who doesn’t normally recommend books told me I absolutely had to read this book because it was “amazing” I took a shot, and picked up Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer.
Now, I could take this time to write a traditional review – tell you about the book, the characters, what I liked and didn’t – but I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to tell you what this book taught me.
*This book taught me that it’s ok to read outside my “usual” genres. I do not read horror. I do not read suspense. I like sleep too much. Yet this book is considered both horror and suspense, and I read it from start to finish in one sitting. But to be fair, there’s no gross blood and the suspense is all mental. That’s a suspenseful horror I can get behind.
*This book taught me that character names are more than just titles. So, none of the characters in this book have names. At all. Rather, they are referred to by their job (i.e., “the biologist” or “the phychologist”). I find that the lack of names made me suspicious of ALL the characters, no matter what actions they took. The biologist is presented as the main character, and I found her highly unreliable. In this case, the old adage that “names have power” is relevant; somehow, knowing a character’s name creates a sort of relationship between the reader and the character – a sense of camaraderie. In this case, I felt no connection to the characters, and so trusted nothing about them.
*This book taught me secrecy, the unknown, and insanity can be more terrifying that a serial killer. There is nothing in this book that is reliable. It’s impossible to know what’s real and what’s only in the characters’ minds. The untrustworthiness of the characters made me question everything. The tension is palpable, and the sense of foreboding and dread builds so slowly I almost didn’t realize what was happening until the tiny clues along the way that initially seemed so unimportant suddenly all come together into a truth insidious and alien.
*This book taught me setting can function as character. Area X is as important an element to this story as is any of the human characters. In many ways, it’s more interesting than any of the human characters, too. It’s more dynamic, if not more mysterious. The greatest danger of Area X is unseen, but is present in the effect it has on the human characters manifesting as terror, insanity, and unnatural physical transformation.
*This book taught me resolution isn’t always the endgame. So, to loop around and back to my initial question: What did I just read? I literally can’t answer this. Because the book doesn’t have a resolution. Oh, it has an ending, but it isn’t a pretty, satisfying, wrap-up-all-the-loose-ends ending. In fact, by the end of the book, I didn’t really feel like I knew anything more than I did at the beginning of the book. And, somehow, I was ok with that. Area X is an unsolved mystery.
So, the long and the short of it is, exercise your reading muscles every now and then, and choose something you wouldn’t normally read. Take a chance. You may end up reading something that you completely hate, but, then again, you may end up reading something that you absolutely love – like I just did. So much, in fact, that I devoured the other two volumes of the Southern Reach trilogy, Authority and Acceptance, in four days.
And to those of you who have read Annihilation, riddle me this: with regards to Area X – is that the letter X, or is it the Roman numeral ten?