Audiobook Review: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

6 03 2014

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (The Southern Reach Trilogy, Bk, 1)

Read by Carolyn McCormick

Blackstone Audio

Length: 6 Hrs

Genre: Science Fiction

Grade: B

There seemed to be a lot of excitement among people I respect about Annihilation, the newest book by Jeff VanderMeer. In fact, some of my favorite have been pushing me to give VanderMeer a go for awhile, and I have been hesitant. Yet, Annihilation sounded fascinating and something that was right up my particularly strange alley. Annihilation follows an expedition into a strange, mysterious land known as Area X. This excursion, by 4 unnamed scientists, is the latest in a series that all have ended in mystery or tragedy. Annihilation is beautifully written. It has a almost stream of consciousness feel and an extremely untrustworthy narrator, making everything feel just a little dreamlike and malleable. The novel is narrated by The Biologist, who jumps in time between the current excursion, and her experiences with her husband who had gone on the previous mission. Because of her personal ties to the experience, she holds back key details and commits many lies by omission, and her story is even more influenced by her personal experiences in Area X. While this added multiple layers and fascinating details to the tale, it also created a barrier between the narrator and the reader which I struggled to overcome. I never felt fully connected with her tale, and the constant shift between her running narrative, and her filling in details that she left out previously created an artificial feel to the story and the information being revealed. This sense of disconnect prevented me from fully buying into Annihilation, making it a book I admired more than actually enjoyed.

Carolyn McCormick was a wonderful choice to narrate this title. I always thought she was a bit miscast in the Hunger Games, but here she delivers a reading perfectly suited to the narrative. Somehow she manages to both be distant and engaging, delivering her reports with a clinical detachment, while capturing the complicated emotions of a introverted women unsure of how to handle the deteriorating relationship between her and her extroverted husband. I found myself relating much more with pre-expedition Biologist, that the one you meet inside the boundaries of Area X. While Annihilation didn’t always work for me, the brilliance of the writing and McCormick’s performance made it a worthwhile use of my time.


I reviewed this book as part of Audiobook Jukebox’s Solid Gold Reviewer program.



3 responses

6 03 2014

What would be the fun of us all liking all the same things exactly the same amount in exactly the same way? Gives us more to talk about than “me too”. It’s possible that knowing a film was in the works for this had me “seeing” this book in a more cinematic feel, that the backstory details would be more natural as the “camera” focuses on something that sparks this connection to the biologist’s past. (Or maybe it helps that I read the book first, before listening to the audiobook, so the physical act of page-turning created a barrier to the alternating current/backstory sections?) Or maybe and more simply I just enjoy that particular structuring of a book more.

But on your comments about the quality of the narration, what else can I say than, “me too!” See, boring!

6 03 2014

it’s that fine line of writing from the POV of an unreliable narrator. Sometimes it’s fun when the person says “oh yeah, I neglected to tell you something”, and sometimes it’s just frustrating. There were plenty of times in Annihilation that i flipped back to an earlier chapter to see what the Biologist had said or done previously, to see if it at all matched what she was doing now, but I imagine jumping back and forth isn’t as easy in an audio book??

11 03 2014
Dave Thompson

Hey, glad you generally enjoyed it.

For me, the unreliable narrator holding stuff back made me that much more interested in her and her story. I realized about 15-20 minutes in she was unreliable, and so some of the payoff for me was all the stuff she was holding back – some of it more obvious than others.

I think I’m going to go back to this book sometime before the second book in this sequence comes out (relatively quick for me). I’m really curious to see how it holds up on a repeat listen.

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