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Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
It’s a while since I read a truly spooky sci-fi thriller but Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation definitely hits the spot. The first in the Southern Reach trilogy – be aware that you will have to get the next two if you read this one!
A team of five women are chosen to enter, record and map the mysterious and secretive Area X, a large and apparently unspoilt quarantined area on the US coast. Even before they arrive one of the women drops out and it isn’t long before the remaining four start to feel the extraordinary effects of this remote place. None of the women are allowed to use their names. They are simply identified by their specialisms: the Biologist; the Psychologist; the Surveyor; and the Linguist. The Biologist tells the story through her journal, recalling her past when her husband, a member of a previous expedition, returned from Area X inexplicably changed and with little memory. The team soon realise their lack of specific instruction, vague purpose and poor tools and equipment are not going to be sufficient to cope with the potential dangers and terrors of Area X. But what is it that really lurks out in the reed beds, lighthouse, abandoned village and “tower” and will the Biologists’ unbending scientific approach keep her from ‘changing’?
The question of whether this is truly an ‘alien’ landscape or a reflection of normal lonely people battling the everyday world with metaphors of danger, insecurity and horror at every turn is one that continuously arises throughout the book. This is not only thought provoking but truly a page turner with vivid and involving descriptions. I think I would quite like to visit Area X!