Perhaps the biggest indication of the nature of this novel is that the four main characters are all unnamed. The psychologist, the anthropologist, the surveyor and the biologist are a group of scientists sent on expedition into the mysterious Area X, a creepy wilderness that has defied understanding for thirty years.
The story is related in first person by the last of our team, the biologist. She describes the expedition in great detail, with historical asides from her own isolated life and her strained marriage with her husband who disappeared on a previous expedition.
Her account of her experience is harrowing, inexplicable and deeply unsettling. Echoing the heavy dread of Lovecraft in strange imagery and unimaginable oddness, VanderMeer paints a deliciously creepy picture of Area X as something more than humanity can comprehend. While we never find out what happened here, it’s clear that some presence — possibly otherworldly — has infiltrated the wilderness and is transforming it in confounding ways. A deep tower is found underground with unfathomable organisms on its walls, and further down something else — something strange and weird and beyond understanding. My skin crawled and hairs went up on the back of my neck as I devoured VanderMeer’s itchy prose.
Annihilation is a tricky novel to review. Any effort to explain the plot in detail would undermine the palpable creeping horror that seeps from the pages. Yet the coolness of the biologist’s journal and her clinical reporting of her experiences make the story seem somehow… normal. Character development is slim, but what we do see of the biologist is that she is nothing special. She’s just a normal woman doing her job in weird circumstances. The contrast between the characterisation of our protagonist and the weirdness of her situation make the book stark and terrifying.
You’ll have far more questions once you’ve finished than are ever answered. Yet this is the book’s strength, for it grabbed my imagination and wouldn’t let go. Thoroughly enjoyable for any fan of the weird and unexplained.