Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book blew me away. It took me a very long time for me to get to it and I'm pretty disappointed in myself for taking so damn long to get to it. I mean, VanderMeer has often be compared to the likes of Mervyn Peak, who is a damned genius and a huge inspiration on me. However, VanderMeer does not, in my view, draw solely from the likes of Peak. Sure, the descriptions are there, dolled out occasionally as a form of punctuation, a snare hit, hard and fast to really make the point.
No. VanderMeer is not only an acolyte of Peak. He takes some cues from the post modernists. His sentences can be short, sometimes vague in their briefness, sometimes painfully poignant in their simplicity. It reminds me a bit of Vonnegut in its economy and humanity and of Philip K. Dick in its strangeness and playfulness with reality.
And perhaps that there is one of the most engaging parts of this book: the way that VanderMeer takes the old Lovecraftian trope of coming across something odd, something that should not be contacted it and re-contextualized it so that it comes from the inside.
It's almost like body horror. But not quite. No, body horror implies something that VanderMeer does not employ in this story. What he does employ though, subtly, is a look at how what we are told, what our superiors divulge, what the media gives to us, is often what we take as truth, what we use to define the reality we inhabit. In this story we see that confrontation, that sinister realization that reality and truth are both malleable and that those who have power are often the ones that manipulate it.
Of course, there is another fascinating aspect to this story. It is clear that there is a city-scape, one that may even be the same as ours, and yet VanderMeer does not focus on that. Instead, with his nameless character, we get a glimpse at nature. Yet this is not the nature of our day, nor the nature of some idealized world without pollution or corporate greed to destroy it. This is the nature of a post-natural world. One that is violent and hostile and, perhaps, sentient.
This books is gothic and political. It shows the splendor of that wild, unknowable thing and the terror of it as well. It is clear from the beginning of this tale that VanderMeer has a great love of nature and a sort of reverence for it, even if it does not extend to the near religious reverence his main character has, the seed of that love surely exists within him.
Overall, this book was a mix of sheer beauty and sheer terror. But strange and awful and frightening in its unknowable nature and comforting, beautiful, and even inviting. A perfect synchronization of horror and beauty, this book is, undoubtedly, the best I've read this year. And I read a good deal of Gaiman this year so that really means something.
Well done, Mr. VanderMeer. Well done.
Get the Book here, at Amazon if you're interested!