An Expedition into Jeff Vandermeer’s “Annihilation” Pts. 3, 4, 5.

Annihilation Pt. 2

After eager, restless sleep and a slow-moving afternoon, I’m back for part two of my adventure into Jeff Vandermeer’s Area X.  Without allowing myself the chance for digression, let’s get right into it. Needless to say, this contains spoilers and (often incorrect) knee-jerk reactions/predictions.
Join me after the jump for my “journal.”

3: Immolation
11:00 pm – Immolation, eh?  Lighthouse, fire, etc.  I see where this is going.
11:02 pm – Vandermeer sure knows how to set a scene.  “Black moss,” “grey water,” “dull, algae-choked lakes,” and even verbs like “flanked,” and “slid” coupled with adjectives along the lines of “blackened,” “tortured,” and “stillness” serve to make me uneasy despite the biologist’s strange mood and feelings of a half-ecstasy.
11:06 pm – So many mysteries…The Crawler, the Tower, the who, the what.  The biologist even notes all of her assumptions could be wrong.  Vandermeer, you sly dog, you…
11:08 pm – “Scientists figured out a way to breach the border.”  This is interesting to me for several reasons.  First, the biologist talks about the building one walked through and being hypnotized as the path to get from civilization to Area X.  It makes me think of something like a wormhole, how they suddenly snap back to reality at the bidding of the psychologist, and being suddenly burdened by packs is the “least startling way” to introduce them back into reality.  More than that, the biologist mentions changes in personality, a simultaneous sense of freedom and constraint along with surveillance, a heightening of sexual desire, feelings of euphoria.  The place is almost like a drug, an aphrodisiac promoting reproduction.  Is that what the Tower is trying to do via the Crawler and the fungi scrawlings—simply reproduce?  It is the biological nature of…well…nature.  Birth, death, birth, death.  Such a perplexing, intriguing world Vandermeer has set up, and I feel like I have more questions than answers.
11:15 pm – Dolphin-human hybrid in the canal…well, that’s sure eerie.  So if Area X is covered in some kind of “natural world” camouflage, I have to assume that the hypnotization has something to do with this shift in perception and that the spores inhaled by the psychologist are contributing to a gradual deconstruction of the facade.
11:23 pm – Brief interruption, but continuing on. Bare rooms and then the scene of a massacre along with the feeling of an echo of a presence.  Vandermeer turning up the eerie factor, for sure, but the layer of dust and rat droppings is somehow calming.  Still, the defenses, the wall against the sea…it reminds me of a story I started sketching out years ago about man trying to fight nature.  An unwinnable war, for sure, but if that’s Vandermeer’s intent, he’s doing it with skill plenty of style.  Let’s move on!
11:26 pm  – More blood, more messed up samples, shell casings, and then just holes with signs of someone being present afterwards.  Such a strange mix of presence and abandonment, and yet another mystery in the form of the keeper.
11:32 pm  – Well, if you weren’t in tune with something fishy going on, take a look at all those journals hidden under a trap door!  And Vandermeer cleverly brings us in by suggesting that, perhaps, we’re reading the biologist’s journal from the top of the pile.
11:36 pm – Such a brilliant quote.“That’s how the madness of the world tries to colonize you: from the outside in, forcing you to live in its reality.”  Vandermeer does a great job of bringing in these kinds of flashbacks.  We learn a bit more about the biologist and her life, but we also experience an increase in suspense through wanting to return to the present.  Skillful characterization.
11:40 pm – “I loved him, but I didn’t need him, and I thought that was the way it was supposed to be.”  Vandermeer with another nice quote.
11:42 pm – Definitely seems like we’re going in a “reclamation project by nature” direction. Still, tons of questions.
11:46 pm – “Not everything happening to us has a rational explanation.”  Sea life attacking, running out of ammo, mention of some kind of proto-Area X.  This place is weird.
11:47 pm – It’s almost as if the presence is psychosomatic, or at least derives power that way.  The more empiricism and rationalism employed, the worse it gets.  Bottle it up, kids!
11:51 pm – Well, there’s our psychologist.  I’m not even sure what to think anymore.  So many expeditions, possibly more than the initial number of 12, all of these journals, and all of this under the guise of science and exploration, yet the power of hypnotism lurks throughout.  Is it some kind of exercise in sacrifice?  Ah!  I don’t want to leave myself hanging, and so with Immolation in the past, we shall go forward into Immersion.
4: Immersion
11:55 pm – So self-contained is a good thing. Perhaps the lack of communication facilitates hypnosis, as solitude and self-isolation cause a decline in communication.  Makes sense, right?
12:05 am – Couldn’t pull myself away from reading.  I almost don’t want to write because, even though I provide a spoilers disclaimer, certain things are better experienced firsthand.  I still have so many questions about Area X and this world, but, for now, I need to keep reading.
12:08 am – I can’t say enough good things about Vandermeer’s skill in pacing.  I honestly haven’t been this sucked into a novel in quite a long time.  I really enjoyed Nicole Krauss’ “Man Walks Into a Room,” but before that…no idea.  Things are never what they seem, and even when you think you might be on to something, Vandermeer has the foothold slip.  You’re left hanging on, but then you have to alter your interpretations and your thoughts, grasping for another foothold to try again.  Really, just incredible skill.
12:10 am – I give our biologist credit.  I’d never walk that path at night.
12:11 am – A face rising out of the dirt…oh, nothing scary about that…just a human-esque exoskeleton.
12:15 am – And we have our humanesque creature, complete with a sense of logic and plaintive moaning.  Is it the biologist’s husband in some kind of capacity?  I doubt it, but I can’t help but entertain the thought.
12:17 am – Never mind, it’s the old psychologist.  But if that’s his “death,” and he still returned in his body, where’s the body of the biologist’s husband?  Some kind of wormhole/parallel reality almost seems to make sense, but it’s such an odd notion.
12:20 am – “It’s natural!”  Our biologist is starting to sound a bit unhinged, but the surveyor obviously saw something odd.  Oh, well..only one left now.  Kind of disappointed…
12:23 am – A gradual transformation has occurred, most definitely, and we’re pulled along for the ride.    I find myself glancing at the page numbers out of the corner of my eye, afraid Vandermeer is going to cut me off at this pivotal point.  I’ll tell you when I’ve had enough, Vandermeer!
12:26 am – The truth of the transformation.  I knew it.
12:29 am – Hm…so it seems the anthropologist was having an 11th-expedition-psychologist experience and reanimated.  I’m still not entirely sure of what to make of everything.  Hopefully section five will solve some of the puzzle, but I know, sooner rather than later, we’re going to be left and have to move on to book 2, “Authority.”  After a short break, we’ll tackle the fifth and final part of Annihilation—“Dissolution.”
5: Dissolution
1:48 am – An hour is plenty, and I’m buckled up for the final push.  The biologist poses an interesting question.  If the eleventh expedition was able to appear in their homes again, what else had made its way through? I rule out the government having a role because they came to pick up the biologist’s husband soon enough.  Still, interesting to note that the biologist and her husband both lived dual lives.
2:01 am – After taking time to think, I’m still perplexed.  The hypnotism obviously plays a role in the actions of the expeditions, but nature seems to gradually take over, infecting everyone with what the biologist calls the “brightness.”  Ultimately, it seems like they become hostile and paranoid (duh…).
2:02 am – Did the linguist became the crawler after stabbing the 11th’s biologist?  Or was he just drawn to it by the Crawler?  We’ll see how my guesses pan out. (EDIT: Wrong!)
2:04 am – Ah, the procession.  Were these copies of the expedition made by the landscape? Are they just spectres as her husband suggests? So many questions…
2:07 am – “Some questions will kill you if you’re denied the answer long enough.”  Vandermeer is bringing us to the brink of death, and then resurrecting us as if we’re a collective Lazarus.  Damn, he’s good.  Still, though..a dolphin-human for a husband sounds like it might be an upgrade.
2:12 am – A kind of transcendence…can’t stop. Must read.
2:19 am – Pulling myself away to comment.  I don’t know what to say when the narrator herself can’t even describe it.  Keep going!
2:21 am – Such shifting perceptions of reality, light, heat, drowning, and, then, acceptance….and freedom?
2:23 am – Well, she certainly fared better than the biologist.  Pain, bruises, sure, but alive.
2:24 am – Saying the curves in the ceiling were like a skull, I came up with the idea that she is exploring her own mind, an altered state of perception.  I’m sure it’s incorrect, but interesting to think about.  Vandermeer works wonders with the ambiguity, all of the possible leads.
2:28 am – Our keeper shows up again absorbed into the fungus.  Ten pages left and so many questions…
2:36 am – Wow.  I still have a ton of questions, and I can only hope some will be answered in “Authority.”  Sheesh…  Can’t wait to pick it up and return to Area X.  For now, we walk the coast.
I feel like I was right in that Nature is reclaiming the Earth, absorbing and destroying anything human in its way.  I find it funny (and telling) that I capitalized “Nature.”  Though my predictions were often incorrect, and, I’m sure, way out of touch, I had a lot of fun exploring all of the possibilities as an analytical person.  A lot of this material may show up again in my review, but Vandermeer has really created a memorable novel.
I’m not sure if this is something I’ll do often, but it’s been an interesting way to read and truly interact with the text.

One thought on “An Expedition into Jeff Vandermeer’s “Annihilation” Pts. 3, 4, 5.

  1. Reading these posts was actually the fucking best. An amazing way to watch the little book unfold, and your commentary was great. You are making me want to read this book all over again. I feel like it would be just as awe inspiring.


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