Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation follows a troupe of four women – a biologist, a surveyor, an anthropologist and a psychologist – as they enter the mysterious Area X, an area of land sectioned off due to its mysterious and dangerous properties. Despite there having been eleven prior expeditions, not much is known about what goes on in Area X other than that those that return are rarely as they left – if they return at all.
This was not my cup of tea, which was such a letdown considering how the premise captured my imagination. While my genre focus is primarily mystery and crime fiction, I have an appreciation for both horror and sci-fi. Vandermeer’s novel exists within the latter and while it definitely succeeds in the creepiness factor, I felt like I spent the majority of the novel waiting for an explanation that never came. I get that the fear of the unknown was a key factor used in driving the book, but it left me frustrated. I didn’t even know where in the world this was taking place! I need to know! The narrator clearly knows – why not at least give me that?
That being said, not knowing what led to a setting can be fine – Cormac McCarthy’s The Road never explicitly says what brought about “the end of the world” – but in the absence of knowledge, I need entertaining and memorable characters. The biologist, who is our narrator, is dreadfully boring and the three other women that ventured alongside her were void of personality, which left me with a general sense of apathy whenever they were in danger. Unlike The Man and The Boy in The Road, I didn’t care about these characters and I didn’t care if they lived or died.