Acceptance (The Southern Reach Trilogy) Hardcover – January 1, 2012
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Now, I saw some of what I liked from the first two books here, and I did finish it in three days (despite not having much time to read), so I just can't justify a one- or two-star rating. But neither did I like this as much as either of the first two books in the series.
Look, when you start reading a trilogy, you expect there to be some set-up in book one, some mysteries introduced in the first and even second books, but you want resolution by the end of book three, not new questions. Overall, I don't really feel like I got that. (I am, perhaps, most satisfied with the hints of what created the anomaly known as Area X, oddly enough. This is never spelled out for you, but there is an incident with the lighthouse keeper, Saul, and some speculation later on, and if you put those pieces together with some of the discussion of traveling to Area X, you can come up with something at least plausible. I think this part was done pretty well, actually, although you have to pay a lot of attention towards the end of the book and think about it for a bit afterwards, as well. Too much explanation would have made me roll my eyes because there's just no explaining something so alien.)
But, the first two books were character studies, first of the biologist from the twelfth expedition into Area X, and second of Control, the newly-installed director of Southern Reach, the agency that investigates and guards against Area X. And you kind of expect the book to continue in that vein, but the characters just aren't nearly as compelling in this book. Part of my issue here may stem from the multiple viewpoints -- Control, Ghost Bird (a double of the biologist created by Area X), the psychologist from book one who was also the director of Southern Reach before Control, and Saul Evans, keeper of the lighthouse that is discussed often in all three books. We also read a document written by the biologist from book one, who is sort of a fifth viewpoint character. (And if you wonder what happened to her at the end of book one, you will at least get an answer for that. It is weird, but it is resolution, and it doesn't come out of nowhere.)
This is really too many people to do the same type of character study we saw in book. But, I feel like the author is attempting to do so anyway. We get a lot of information on the backgrounds of the psychologist and of Saul. Both had experience in Area X before the change, and we read a lot about that time. Some of Saul's parts do help explain (or at least, I think they do) the formation of Area X. But there is a lot of extraneous stuff, as well. Like his relationship with a fisherman. I swear they go to bed together about 10 times in less than 25% of the book. (There is no graphic detail so don't worry about that.) I do like Saul's journal entries about the lighthouse. They don't seem relevant at first, but the changes in them accurately reflect his underlying mental state.
Anyway, I can buy Saul as a viewpoint character. I am not feeling the psychologist at all. I find her hard to sympathize with as she seems to have shunned personal relationships for most of her life, and the attempts to describe her personal life involve her hanging out at a bowling alley bar with people she doesn't know well (not even their names, apparently, or she doesn't care about their names). I think a lot of what she offered to the story could've been handled in Saul's sections, with Control finding a few of her documents to complete the picture.
And then, the other issues.
(1) Everyone is always trying to go to "the island." The biologist's husband. The biologist. Control and Ghost Bird. Even Grace (the Southern Reach assistant director from the past book). But why? What is so special about the island? It's not where resolution happens. I just don't get its prominent place in the story.
(2) Lowry. This guy survived the first expedition into Area X. He is the only person who did. I understand that this gives him some kind of personal knowledge and authority. But he has a couple of screws loose and I absolutely don't understand why he has so much influence over everyone else or how he is able to maintain a position in what I assume is some kind of intelligence agency. He does have some dirt on some other characters, but those are his subordinates, essentially, not his superiors (who would actually have a say in whether he keeps his job).
(3) The Seance and Science Brigade. These folks showed up in Saul's sections. It is implied that some of Control's family members may have had a connection. Mostly they just seemed annoying. Their role in everything is not explained. It seems they exist to annoy Saul, to trespass and vandalize, etc.
(4) Control. I don't understand at all what happened to him. Or why he was driven to do what he did, at the end.
(5) I guess I understand that missions were sent into Area X to understand what was going on. Because it was clearly harmful to people who had been there when it was created/formed/whatever. But it sounds like potentially hundreds of missions were sent, with hundreds of people lost. It seems like, at some point, you would cut your losses. Especially since, when people do come back (if they do at all), they rarely have any useful information. They leave all their journals in the lighthouse. No one has brought physical samples back for a long time. What is it that people are hoping to accomplish by going in here? It seems like Area X might've stayed stable but for human interference. Granted, I guess the characters couldn't know that.
(6) We keep being told that the biologist is the psychologist's secret weapon against Area X. I'm not convinced the reason for this was established. Yes, she's socially awkward and interested in nature and yes, her husband was on a previous expedition. But given the biologist's ultimate fate, I guess the psychologist was just wrong?
(7) We find out at some point in the previous book, or early in this one, that the psychologist went on an unauthorized mission into Area X and brought back a plant (the plant is definitely in book 2). Why was she able to do this when none of the official expeditions were all that successful (her companion was clearly damaged by the experience, but she didn't really change)?
Anyway, there were enough dropped threads and missed connections that I was not terribly satisfied with the conclusion of this trilogy. (I pretty much only read speculative fiction these days so it's not like I'm new to the genre, so my issue is not lack of familiarity with the types of stories that are told.) I like Mr. Vandermeer's writing style and would definitely consider buying other books of his. I'm just a little disappointed with this book. The series started out so strongly!
I loved this series. I may read it again.
This, the third volume of the Southern Reach trilogy, is a trilogy within itself since it is divided into three sections. The first section consists of narrative that alternates chapter by chapter between four characters: Saul the lighthouse keeper, whose story takes place on the "forgotten coast" before it became Area X ... "Control" the new Former Director of the Southern Reach, who exists in Area X in the subjective present ... "Ghost Bird" the returned biologist from the twelfth expedition, who is with Control, but since she is not really the biologist but an Area X-made copy she has a slightly different perspective ... the previous Director of the Southern Reach, whose story takes place before the events in volume 1: Annihilation. The first three characters are narrated in third person (except for excerpts from Saul's terse pronounless "no-person" daily log at the beginning of each of his chapters) while the Director's chapters are narrated in the rare _second_ person (in which "you" are the Director.) There is undoubtedly some clever meta-literary reason for this structure. I thought it helped in keeping the story straight so you know who you're reading about and sort of where it fits in the timeline.
Halfway through the book, we get to read the biologist's second journal, which is a direct sequel to "Annihilation." This is done in first-person, so all of the possible narrative voices are represented in one compact volume with a creepy pink owl on the cover.
Lots of new information is revealed which casts previous events in a whole new light. Several times I went "OH! So that's why so-and-so was acting that way" but in the end, none of the really significant questions were answered. What is Area X? What created it? What is its purpose? There are clues enough, I suppose, but you have to put them together yourself. The characters don't seem to ever figure it out, beyond some vague hint that it's some sort of life-preservation capsule from another world. Maybe?
The surreal dreamy quality started to get tedious in this volume, along with the philosophical musings about the nature of identity, perception of reality, etc. How do we know we are who we are, and that we are where we think we are? How much of what we remember is true? What happens to whatever it is that makes us "us" when we die? Why does any of this matter?
Perhaps I shouldn't have tried to read all three of these books in such rapid succession. I got tired. I can't give lots of stars to a book that makes me tired. It's technically well written - the prose is crafted with poetic precision - but my feeling toward it is MEH. This isn't a trilogy I would keep to read again.
Top international reviews
The story is from the perspective of several characters each trying to comprehend what is happening in a place that is beyond comprehension. Some theories get thrown around about what is going on and you may find answers in there, but nothing is certain and you will also find many more questions.
Personally i loved it. If you like everything in a novel to be tied up and explained then you will hate this book, but if you like to think about it yourself and come up with your own explanations then you will find plenty to work with.
Structurally, 'Acceptance' is probably the most conventional of the three books. It interleaves a sequence of straightforward narratives, featuring the stories of Saul Evans in the days immediately prior to Area X's emergence, the Director between the eleventh and twelfth expeditions, Ghost Bird and Control's exploration of Area X, and the biologist's expedition notebook. These stories intertwine elegantly, and gradually lead us to grasp the full magnitude of what's been afoot inside Area X. 'Acceptance' still retains the mystery and ambiguity of the trilogy's previous books, but successive revelations do rebound across the book's multiple timeframes with satisfying regularity. However, VanderMeer rather deftly avoids spelling anything out too explicitly - probably wisely, as the underlying premise of the whole trilogy is pretty bonkers, really.
Overall then, a really strong narrative, a pleasingly ambiguous solution to the central mysteries but, after 850 pages of the Southern Reach trilogy, there was one nagging thought in this reader's mind: what the hell have I just read??
Authority, what a strange journey, I stuck with it and I'm proud I did. Clearly very different in every way to the first. Had you run out of ideas or were you saving everything for the end. Yes, yes you were. This book was a metaphor for the state of humanity in general to comprehend the ideas presented in the first book as we wade blind and completely overwhelmed with the inexplicable yet mundane. A metaphor indeed.
And by book three I'm afraid I just ran out of steam.
Overall, this trilogy amounts to a tour de force of weird, defying easy description. ACCEPTANCE, like the other books, is nothing short of a transcendental journey into the natural and the alien, exploring the realms that make us human - and other things beside. Highly recommended.
(Photos taken after reading)