Annihilation by Jeff Vanermeer–ATLP Book Review

Cover of book, Annihilation, against background of green grass.

The Stats

  • 195 pages
  • Sci-Fi
  • Dystopian
  • Biology/Botany

“The tower breathed, and the walls when I went to touch them carried the echo of a heartbeat…and they were not made of stone but of living tissue.”

Jeff Vandermeer, Annihilation (41)


No one knows what’s happened in Area X. For decades, it’s been cut off from civilization, reclaimed by nature. Scientific expeditions to explore the area have come up with little to no knowledge about what has happened there, leaving everyone wondering what exactly is going on? And how do they keep Area X from continuing to grow? Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation questions what happened to Area X through the lens of a biologist and her team as they venture into the twelfth expedition of Area X.

The twelfth expedition is initially made up of five women: a linguist, an anthropologist, a surveyor, a psychologist, and a biologist (our narrator). The mission? to map the terrain, record all observation so their surroundings in a journal, and avoid becoming part of the landscape.

But, when Area X threatens the team with unknowns beyond anything they ever anticipated, readers will question whether the expedition will be successful…or whether civilization will be quick to send out another.


Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Annihilation has been on my TBR list for a while now and I’m excited that it finally became available at the library. This is a quick read at barely 200 pages, but it’s not necessarily one that you fly through–there’s many sections of the novel that require re-reading or thought in order to analyze what’s really happening as the plot progresses.

I really enjoyed the narrative prose Vandermeer has through this novel. There are some phrases that just read beautifully. It’s so easy to visualize aspects of the landscape of Area X–readers can actually see the atmosphere and the qualities that the biologist describes. For me, this is what makes the lack of descriptions around the characters so frustrating. It’s obvious to me that some of this is purposeful (i.e. not knowing the team members by their names, but instead their job titles). However, Annihilation’s characters have no depth. There’s little to no understanding of their physical prescence, what they look like, their personalities. We do understand a little about their faults, but only enough to move the plotline forward.

Another difficulty, for me at least, with the characters in this novel: they felt so male-centric. Sometimes, you read a book and it’s just SO obvious that a male wrote a female character. I tackled this topic in my review of Before The Coffee Gets Cold. Annihilation felt very similarly to this–I needed to remind myself several times that these were female characters, not men. Now, the interesting thing here is that the female characters weren’t oversexualized like they were in Before The Coffee Gets Cold, which can sometimes be the case for characters written by male writers. Instead, these characters just read like they were male instead of female. Interesting, right?

I’d be curious to read some of Vandermeer’s other work to see if this point was purposeful or not. Although it was a feature of Annihilation that I didn’t like, I can see how it might effectively provide more power to the female team members, leading the reader to believe that they might be just as successful if not more successful than a male centered team might. Or, maybe it’s a stretch and I’m reading too much into it.

Another frustration that I had with this novel was the ambiguity of the words on the wall and the Crawler. While so many aspects of the landscape are easy to visualize, Vandermeer chooses to leave specific scenes/word choices obscure, leaving little for the reader to go on. The fungi on the wall take on a nearly biblical verse, that’s never really explained. Nor is the Crawler. In fact, our biologist leaves us with little environmental discovery in the end, choosing the path of self-discovery instead.

If you’ve ever read a book with an open-ended final chapter, there’s nothing more frustrating than an author letting the reader decide what happened to the MC. Where did she go? Was her husband still alive? Was he dead? Did the other characters shape shift after death? Before death? There’s so many questions left unanswered. And, perhaps this is a trick that Vandermeer hopes to use to lure readers into reading the second book in the Southern Reach Triology, Acceptance, which seems to tackle a completely different character in Area X.


I love a good dystopian novel. There’s something about otherworldly things that appeals to me, especially when shit gets weird. And, that much is true for Annihilation: It certainly IS weird. But, is it too much? There were a bunch of little things that I loved about this novel, like how atmospheric it was, and the beautiful prose–and let’s be real, I think everyone loves a paperback under 200 pages. And yet, this book missed the mark for me. I didn’t love how the characters were written. It was extremely difficult to connect with any of them, and the biologist showed little growth as our narrator.

In addition to this, the forward movement of the plotline of this book hinges on finding the answers to questions about the biological nature of Area X, the tower, and the Crawler–none of which are easily identified or visualized at the end of the novel. Instead, the biologist pretty much throws up her middle finger and decides to do her own thing, leaving readers wondering what the heck just happened.

I’m not going to lie, this wasn’t my favorite read, and I don’t think I’ll see myself reading the second book in the trilogy. But, I’d love to hear thoughts in the comments below if anyone else has tackled Acceptance, and if the second book addresses the questions readers are left with after Annihilation. If you’ve read either, leave me a comment below and let me know what you thought! Do you agree with my assessment?

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