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Acceptance: A Few Good Ideas Trapped in a Willfully Incoherent Mess

Acceptance By Jeff Vandermeer

In the last couple years I have to say Annihilation is one of my favorite movies. It’s beautiful, strange, scary and mind bending. So after seeing the film I wanted to read the source material. Its based on the Sothern Reach trilogy. The first book was okay. I felt it didn’t come close to the film, but did have this simplistic old fashion HG Wells like charm to it. Then I read the second book. It followed the director of a research team where he did paper work through the entire book putting me to sleep. After that book I was done with the series. I was happy to rewatch the movie and reread the first novel if I ever had a desire to return to Area X. But then I got my hands onto a free copy of the third lone at a book giveaway. And as I looked at it, I knew that it could be really bad, but everyone also seemed to claim that the third book is really good and makes up for the terrible second novel. So why not give it a try? Here is my review of Acceptance by Jeff Vandermeer.

So what is it about? Well just for background, for those who not read the Southern Reach novels prior, there is this strange giant bubble growing on the southern coast. Inside reality warps, evolution is accelerated, and its full of the unexplainable. And there is a scientific research team, trying to study it and stop it from growing and hopefully make it go away.

The book follows three story lines. The first happens before this bubble known as Area X appeared. It follows a lighthouse keeper named Saul. He finds a strange glass like plant growing out of the ground one day and it pricks his fingers. After that, strange things start happening to him. He is not sure if he is going insane or if something much bigger is happening. The second follows a woman named Gloria, who becomes director of the Southern Reach for a while. Her tale explains how she rose to power and her fascination with Area X. The last story is set in the present. It follows the current director referred to as Control, as he is led through Area X by a alien mimic of a fellow scientist who calls herself Ghost Bird.

So the good and bad. Let’s start with the bad, to discuss the biggest issue with story. Area X is a place where reality warps, evolution is accelerated and laws of physics and nature are questionable. And the author decided to express this by writing it in a way that are willingly obtuse and purposely incoherent. The tale with Control and Ghost Bird suffers from this the most. The characters seem to be in a constant daze like they are on drugs, meandering from one place to another to reach a destination with no rhyme or reason. Reading their story is much like reading notes of a half remembered dream someone wrote down. The book did not explain why they were there or how they came up with the conclusions they had. The further I got into it, I felt like I was filling in too many blanks to make sense of it. And when I read the plot synopsis online later to see if what I thought happened is what really happened, I found out I was wrong. It was just trying to be incoherent for its own good to reflect this loss of a sense of reality. And because the author did that, I had nothing to grasp onto in order to make sense of things. At points I couldn’t tell the fantastical real events from hallucinations or metaphors. Also sadly this non-grounded nature of writing in this tale made the lead characters of this story boring and dry. They were so unnatural and spaced out, I could not connect to them to even care for them at all.

The second story about the Director was more straight forward, but it was told through Ghost Bird’s viewpoint. As she is not human and is emotionless, it made the second storyline an empty bore as well because I care so little about this characters. And much like the second book, this was something akin to doing paperwork at the office again. So it was painfully boring as well.

The good? And there is some good here. Saul’s story was thoroughly enjoyable. Set away from the trippy Area X, his story was much more grounded. And because he wasn’t constantly spaced out like the other characters, I could connect to him. He had an interesting backstory and personality and he was a likable guy. So when the strange plant starts doing strange things to him, the reader cares. His arc (though it did have an ambiguous ending) was a wild ride and I constantly wanted to see what would happen next. To see in his eyes, the mundane world beginning to shift into something else and otherworldly was great. Also as much as I complained about Control’s story, there is some trippy scary imagery that does shine through the story here and there. There are a lot of creative ideas here. Sadly, I don’t think the author knew how to get to it all onto paper properly with writing style he chose.

Overall, this is not a good book. It’s a mess of good ideas mixed into a willfully incoherent tale. It’ll bore you out of your mind until the lighthouse keeper shows up with another chapter. And it really stuns me how this series even turned out this way. Was it supposed to be a series at all? Was this forced into a franchise? The first book was fine as a standalone novel. But the following books didn’t seem to have anything to say. It’s really sad to see it go this way. I would never recommend this book. The lighthouse keeper’s tale is the shortest part of the book, so it’s not worth seeking it out for that. I would suggest only read that part if you get the book for free somehow. If you’re interested in The Southern Reach trilogy, read only the first book and leave this and this and the second book alone. It is really not worth your time.

1 smoothies out of Five

Overall Rating: A Few Good Ideas Trapped in a Willfully Incoherent Mess.


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