Annihilation Makes its Unreliable Narrator Mesmerizing

Annihilation Makes its Unreliable Narrator Mesmerizing

When was the last time you took a walk through a living nightmare? Or a dream that you knew, knew was a dream and still kept going?

Annihilation, by Jeff Vandermeer, is often dreamlike in its descriptions, which come straight from the mind and mouth of the narrator via her journals, and nightmarish in their consequences for the narrator and her team, on an expedition to a strange, military-protected part of the southern U.S.

Every story has a setting, and some describe their’s just as beautifully as Annihilation‘s, but few dare add in the unsettling touch of a narrator choosing what bits to tell and what not to. That this truth comes out very early leads you, the reader, into a very different contract with the words on the page. But unlike your friend bragging about his amazing date or her incredible new job, the narrator isn’t trying to lie, but rather trying to say only what she thinks you’ll be able to understand.

Which makes what happens over the course of the book all the more twisted. You never quite know how much of the story you’re getting, or whether being exposed to the whole truth is even something you would want.

And the worst part is you start to care about this narrator. This poor soul who’s stepped so far beyond her known world. With light flashbacks filling in the cracks, we learn why the narrator survives, who she is, and how, in some ways, she’s the perfect person to be in a place where nothing makes sense.

Often, when you discover that the teller of the story is shading the truth, you’re not particularly thrilled. You might even be angry. Annihilation, though, made me feel a kind of relief – the narrator, you see, is only protecting us. Trying to inform without scarring, without making us throw away the words and run.

By the time the book was done, and it’s a quick read, I was unsettled, fascinated, and vaguely sad to lose this guide through a magical, sometimes hostile world.

A couple things:

– Annihilation was made into a movie that released earlier this year – one I didn’t see, though I wanted/want to. Apparently the movie departs quite a bit from the book, and I don’t think the connection made between the reader and the narrator would come through in film anyway, so I’d take a look at this even if you’ve seen the movie.

Annihilation is also the first in a trilogy, and while I haven’t gone into the next two books yet, I plan to. The world Vandermeer built is too interesting to leave after one.

–  One of the strange dilemmas of someone who travels for work is that, randomly, you will only be home on days it rains. This makes it difficult to mow the lawn – I’ve already burned out one mower engine trying to cut too-wet grass. I have no takeaways from this except to say that, sometimes, Nature makes it her business to mess with you, and there’s nothing you can do about it except live with the jungle your yard has become.

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