The final book in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy is on the book shelf this week, and like its predecessors is immensely enjoyable with its ominous overtones even as it hints at something stunning, amazing and beyond human comprehension.
We are taken back into Area X, and the government institution investigating the geographical anomaly, the Southern Reach, from three perspectives. Saul, the lighthouse keeper, Gloria, the director and the leader of the twelfth expedition, and Control, the last director of Southern Reach who has travelled into Area X by the biologist’s double, duplicate, alien doppelganger(?) Ghost Bird.
We are given the answers to some questions, and there are some pretty amazing revelations throughout the book, as in the trilogy, but of course, it leaves you with more questions than answers. And I loved it all the more for that. Phones, plants, light, the crawler, the lighthouse, the journals… so much mystery, discovery and fear within these pages.
Since time immemorial, we’ve imagined what it would be like to make first contact with some sort of alien species, or find an intelligence other than our own to interact with. But what if it happened and we didn’t even recognise it?
What makes us so sure of ourselves that we would understand the overtures, let alone the moment of contact when it happened?
The events in Area X, and the suppositions one could draw just from VanderMeer’s texts are open to many different interpretations, and that I think adds to the novels. Like the characters we are bringing our own perspective to these events, would we handle it any different, would we see the movement of intelligence behind the events?
While there is still an ominous sense of Lovecraftian horror overshadowing the book, and some legitimately surprising and jarring moments, for me, I felt there was a bit of a shift in this book.
A shift that meant that portended that perhaps no, not everything would get better, and no, we might never understand Area X and the intelligence behind it, even as it spreads, but Control’s end, painful as it is, resonated with, again, for me, a sense of wonder, discovery, and the need to know.
There is mystery, hints of horror, and some down right spooky stuff going on in all three books, this one simply lets it all culminate as we ride beside VanderMeer’s characters, puzzling as they puzzle, and delve into a mystery, and a world, that would be so much bigger to us. A world where wonder and horror may not be separate, a world where we may not realise we are not the greatest creation until it smacks us in the face.
VanderMeer’s text is simultaneously engaging and off-putting, troubling and fascinating, as he layers his characters, revealing their truths as we examine them as closely as whatever is at work behind the scenes.
A complex, fascinating read that terrifies and elates, this trilogy is a brilliant read, and I loved my time with it.