Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer
What began in Annihilation, follows on in Authority, concludes in Acceptance. Although I’ll give scant details of what happens below, discussing the third part of a trilogy will necessarily reveal small facts you may prefer not to know if you intend to read these books. See also my reviews of the first two parts: Annihilation and Authority.
The clue is in the title. In Acceptance, we have a coming to terms with the nature of Area X – but I never said it was going to be easy!
If you’ve read the first two, you’ll know that Authority ends with Ghost Bird and Control effectively breaking into Area X. We’ll come back to them in a moment, but after a prologue in which The Director, who has also gone into Area X talks directly to us, we’re back in time before Area X with Saul the Lighthouse Keeper. We meet Henry and Suzanne from the Séance & Science Brigade – a scary research organisation studying paranormal phenomena, “Prebiotic particles, … Ghost Energy” as Henry puts it. They are obsessed with the lens of the lighthouse and Saul doesn’t trust them one inch. We are also introduced to Gloria, a nine year old that plays on the beach, and Charlie – Saul’s lover. With those introductions, our cast is complete.
Acceptance jumps back and forth between the three story strands: with Saul before Area X, with the Southern Reach Authority during the period of the expeditions, and with those last unofficial explorers into Area X. We find out that the layers of conspiracy in the SRA are labyrinthine and totally bonkers in their complexity. We find out how the military used Area X – as a garbage can for space debris – sending dead satellites into the border to wink out of existence. We learn the truth about the biologist/Ghost Bird and why the lighthouse is so important. We also encounter more of the (de-)evolved creatures that made the first volume so scary:
The flesh had sloughed off, runneled down the sides of the bones, vanished into the soil. What remained was a skeleton that looked uncannily like the confluence of a giant hog and a human being, a set of small ribs suspended form the larger like a macabre internal chandelier, and tibias that ended in peculiar nub-like bits of gristle scaenged by biards and coyotes and rats.
‘Its been here awhile,’ said Control. (p34)
It’s fair to say that with its non-linear narrative, Acceptance lacks the singlemindedness that made the first two volumes so compelling. But, in order to resolve the story, there is a lot we need to know in each of the strands. This makes it more messy and you’re less able to devour it in a page-turning way as each revealed nugget leaves you trying to place it in the mix. That said, I still really enjoyed the book and think I understand how it finally reaches the end! Acceptance may be the weakest one of the three, but taken as a whole, The Southern Reach Trilogy is amazing. The first two parts have grown on me since I read them and the mind-boggling concepts between the brightly coloured endpapers of each volume have kept me thinking about them. Having read Ballard’s The Drowned World immediately before reading Acceptance also made a fascinating counterpoint – swapping one account of de-evolution for another! (7.5/10)
I shall leave you with a little ditty that seems sort of appropriate, although the home-video accompanying the song is charmingly amateur… From 1969, I bring you Erika Eigen’s song ‘Lighthouse Keeper‘ (which was featured in the soundtrack Kubrick’s film, A Clockwork Orange, repopularised a couple of years ago in an advert for M&S for you fact-fans!)
Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below (affiliate link):
The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer – pub 4th Estate, hardbacks:
Annihilation (The Southern Reach Trilogy) – Feb 2014, 4th Estate, 208 pages.
Authority (The Southern Reach Trilogy) – May 2014, 352 pages.
Acceptance (The Southern Reach Trilogy) – Sept 2014, 352 pages.