Review: “Acceptance,” Jeff Vandermeer

Pros: Lovecraftian horror and madness for modern readers
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Jeff Vandermeer’s Acceptance (Book Three of The Southern Reach Trilogy) takes us back inside the mix of pristine wilderness and Lovecraftian madness that is Area X. The area is spreading, and all of our primary characters find themselves trapped inside. Through a mix of journal entries and other point-of-view shifts both past and present we explore the secrets that Area X still keeps. The primary PoV characters are Saul (the lighthouse keeper referenced in the other novels, who was present through the creation of Area X), the Director/the Psychologist, the Biologist and Ghost Bird, and Control. In particular we get the run-down on the Director’s previous trip into Area X (with Whitby) before the twelfth expedition took place. We finally find out more or less what Area X is and how it came to be, but it isn’t explored too thoroughly. The wrap-up of the series doesn’t take away too much of the mystery and madness that made Annihilation so special; nor does it leave too much unexplained. I found it to be just the right balance.

I think every writer has words and images that they return to. I thought it spoke to the heart of this series that the words and concepts that seem to return repeatedly are compost, colonizing, and stitching. They all work themselves neatly into the secret heart of the madness that seethes within every inch of Area X. I’m frankly surprised to see a story such as this trilogy that can maintain that Lovecraftian sense of madness and horror while also providing just enough explanation to satisfy a modern audience.

I found Saul’s story particularly interesting. Even though it’s largely a means to an end for a fascinating reveal, Vandermeer gives Saul plenty of personality and layers, as well as a connection to the modern-day story through the Director/the Psychologist.

The original Annihilation is still my favorite of the trilogy, but the story as a whole is fantastic. There’s enough detail that I think it will reward re-reading a time or two as well. In particular there are some uses of hypnosis that cast previous events in a very different light.

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