Sunday, March 6, 2016

Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer


Jeff VanderMeer’s Acceptance is the last book of his Southern Reach Trilogy. My commentary of the first book in the series, Annihilation is here. My commentary on the second book in the series is Authority is here.

Told from the points of view of various characters introduced in the previous novels, this last book in the sequence follows three narratives that take place during different time periods.

One thread follows events that happened 30 years prior to the action in the first two books. It takes place in the weeks preceding the strange transformation of an area of Florida into what is known as Area X. Saul Evans is an ex-preacher who has become a lighthouse keeper. As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that Saul, as well as the lighthouse, is an integral part of Area X’s formation and the strange phenomena that occur within its borders. Like most of the main characters of the trilogy, the lighthouse keeper is well fleshed out and complex.

Another thread takes place shortly before the beginning of the first book in the series. It centers on an earlier director of Southern Reach, the organization tasked with the investigation of Area X. This director was known as “The Psychologist” in the first book. Here, she investigates the mysteries of Area X both from within and without. She is another well-drawn character.

The third story thread involves a trip into Area X by Control and Ghost Bird, the two main characters from book two. As the pair traverses Area X, they encounter monstrous creatures as well as bizarre events.

VanderMeer weaves an intricately plotted tale of interconnected characters and events. As the stories unfold, more and more is revealed about Area X as well as the Trilogy characters.

In this entry, the usual themes involving ecology and the inscrutability of knowledge and truth are further examined. The end of the book further reinforces some of the ongoing ideas. 

As it was in the second book, the mood of this novel is varied. The narrative ranges from psychological horror, quirky humor, deep psychological character study and more. Parts of it are written in rare second person narration. This unusual style works well as it adds to a sense of disconnection from reality as well as from perception that has characterized this entire series.

At one point, the personality of the Psychologist is filled in using this style. The below use of the word “Your” is by the narrator and not by a character in the book.

Your father had been paranoid about the government, every once in a while took on something shady to supplement the day job as a part-time bartender— a low-level grifter.”

Ultimately, some of the mysteries involving Area X are solved. VanderMeer does reveal, in very basic terms, what is behind the strange doings in Area X.  But many questions, some that seemed to be on the brink of intriguing solutions, remain open. In addition, several of the stories and characters’ fates are left open ended. This fits in well with the themes presented throughout the series regarding the elusiveness of truth. It seems to be representative of our endless search for what is, at times, unattainable knowledge. Though this inconclusiveness gives the ending a thematic unity with what preceded it, I was left partially unsatisfied.

The problem is that throughout the series, many enigmas were presented. None of these mysteries seemed unsolvable. To the contrary, solving them would have helped to pull the entire narrative together. Thus, it seems that providing more explanations should have been a necessary ingredient to be included in the series wrap up. Perhaps the themes of the books could have been reinforced in some other way. Based on the intrigue raised in relation to many mysteries that VanderMeer created, more answers here would have made the entire trilogy stronger and more coherent.

Despite the lack of more fulfilling answers, this novel is filled with interesting characters and ideas. Like the previous books, the plot is compelling. It is chocked of strange events that kept me very interested. It is a page -  turner. With that, I found the first book in the series Annihilation, was the best of the three.

The Southern Reach story is unique, creative and meaningful science fiction. There are numerous elements that make these works very distinctive. Despite the fact that the reader is left a bit hanging by the ending, I highly recommend this series. It is refreshingly different in many ways. Fans of strange and enigmatic stories should be very impressed. Those looking for strong characters and for meaning in their fantastical tales will also not be disappointed. These books are well worth reading.




27 comments:

Deepika Ramesh said...

I am glad the books weren't disappointing, Brian. Now that you have read, and reviewed all the three, I am planning to read this during my summer or Christmas holidays. And, I like when the stories are left open-ended. While I agree that it dilutes the good after-taste that a book can leave, for some reason, books with open-endings leave profound impact on me. Maybe, because I end up spending more time thinking about what might have happened further. Murakami is infamous for that, isn't he? His short stories particularly are like that. I read his book 'Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman', and couldn't get my mind off his short stories. Have you read it?

James said...

Thanks for another great review of the books in this series. I will keep them in mind for future Reading.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Deepika - I usually defend open ended book endings. I agree that they can add emotional impact as well as reflect reality. With that, I think that here, VanderMeer needed to explain numerous things scenarios and mysteries that he set up here. The open worked less here then say Andrey Platonov's open ended novels.

I have not read Murakami's works yet but I really want to.

I would love to know what you thought if you read these books.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks for the good word James. I think that you would like these.

Suko said...

Brian Joseph, this does sound like a fascinating book and trilogy. I've enjoyed reading your reviews and learning a few things about the ideas presented in this series. It seems that you would have appreciated a bit more closure in some ways in the author's work.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Suko - Indeed, in my opinion a a few more answers here would have made a stronger Trilogy.

Tracy Terry said...

A great cover AND Psychological horror, quirky humour, deep psychological character study - how wonderful. It's just a shame that some degree of a sense of closure was missing for you.

Harvee Lau - Book Dilettante said...

A book cannot survive well without good characters. Glad this one had its share!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Tracy - Alas, the lack of answers was a flaw. In the end it was only one flaw among many voters.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Harvee - Strong characters are indeed important. Though odd, the characters here were very well crafted.

Delia (Postcards from Asia) said...

That seems a bit frustrating, knowing the author could have solved more of the mysteries, yet he chose not to. I don't mind a mystery or two left unsolved but not too many if their answers could make the story stronger. Still, from your description, this seems like a worthwhile trilogy.

Maria Behar said...

Brilliant review as always, Brian!

You make this whole series sound so compelling, despite the element of psychological horror that pervades it! I do like to read strange and enigmatic stories, and I do love SF. Who knows? I might give at least the first book a try. However, I would have to borrow it from the library. I don't think I would want to own the book! Lol.

I love the fact that this author has well-drawn characters. Nothing is less appealing to me in a novel than weak or sketchy characters! Also, his writing style is certainly excellent.

So I'll give this some thought. Thanks for featuring these books, and thus expanding my SF horizons!! :)

Stefanie said...

It's kind of fun to have the whole trilogy on hand to read one after the other instead of waiting years in between. Didn't he publish them all within months of each other? Glad you enjoyed them. I will definitely get around to reading them!

thecuecard said...

I had my husband read Annihilation but unfortunately he didn't like it. He said it was slow and took much time for anything to happen. But I'm glad you liked the series. You seemed to get a lot out of it. Different strokes, for different folks.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Maria. There were some disturbing things going on in these books. If you did give the firt book a try I would love to hear what you think.

I agree that strong characters are essential.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Stefanie - VanderMeer did publish these with very short breaks between.

If you gave these a try, I would love to know what you thought,

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Susan - Your husband's reaction was interesting. So much of the book was psychological. I can see how it might be considered slow.

HKatz said...

That's a difficult decision to make - what loose ends to tie up vs. what to leave unresolved for the readers. I never know how I will respond to it, either in novels or in films: sometimes I enjoy open-ended endings, other times I think they're a copout. I still want to read this trilogy, for the issues you've discussed and because the characters sound interesting.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Hila - I have read a lot of books with open endings. This one was the only one that disappointed me.

I would love to know what you thought if you read this.

Lee-Anne said...

Hello Brian, I have missed checking in with my favourite book blogs, and glad to see that you are still sharing your reading adventures. I look forward to catching up with your commentary, and do plan to get back on the writing wagon very soon. Take care, Lee-Anne

Caroline said...

I find it a bit disappointing that he left so much open. I wonder why.
Sometimes it makes sense but I'm not entirely sure it does here.
It seems that the first is the one you liked best.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Lee - Ann - I am very happy that you are back.

Thanks for the good word. I look forward to your future posts.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Caroline - I thought that the first book was the best.


I can only guess that all the open mysteries here were meant t relate to the book's theme.

Annabel said...

I agree totally with you Brian. I was left with so many questions too. But the saving grace of the third book is the great characters. I'll bet he returns to Area X some time in the future.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Annabel - I have thought that VanderMeer might revisit Area X myself. I hope that he does. I will be sure to read any books that come about.

Citizen Reader said...

Okay, Brian, evidently now you are firmly linked with Jeff VanderMeer in my mind. Did you see he judged at the Tournament of Books this week?

http://www.themorningnews.org/tob/2016/the-tsar-of-love-and-techno-v-the-sellout.php

And he was the subject of another article here:
https://www.inverse.com/article/12631-jeff-vandermeer-writes-hauntings-without-ghosts-asking-the-prophet

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sarah - Your comment made me smile.

Thanks for the links.

Based on this series, VanderMeer is such an interesting and creative writer. I really must read more of his books.