Annihilation is a book I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about. It’s short, it’s atmospheric, it’s engaging, it’s mysterious– everyone I know who has read it has completely raved about its magic. So when David and I were looking for last minute audiobooks for our road trip home for the holidays this seemed like a great opportunity to share a well-loved book. As you might recall from my last Solving for Tsundoku, I recently had a DNF go quite wrong. Little did I know Annihilation was NOT going to turn out how I expected…
This is how the madness of the world tries to colonize you: from the outside in, forcing you to live in its reality.
I am not going to bother with a synopsis. Read it above if you’re curious because it’s complicated and mysterious and challenging to describe. I certainly couldn’t do it justice. But it is worth knowing that Annihilation is the first novel in a trilogy, and it was nominated for and won a ton of 2014/2015 literary awards, including Nebula Award for Best Novel.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Don’t listen to audiobooks with bad narrators. Here is where my tale of woe begins and probably where it could have ended. Carolyn McCormick narrates this audiobook. And she is forever on my AVOID list. McCormick’s narration felt like a sprint through all 195 pages. She was reading so quickly that we often had to rewind as we adjusted to her pacing. There was far too much, “Wait, what did she say?” in the first 30 minutes of listening. We noted three separate moments when she mispronounced words (not pronouncing them in a British vs. American way, but just honestly stumbled through the word). And she reads this novel with no inflection what-so-ever. I literally fell asleep listening to her reading because it was so drone-like. And I fell asleep during one of the “scariest” and “most intense” moments. I’m not kidding. Terrible.
So, why did we keep listening? David was intrigued. He wanted to keep going and could forgive the bad narration (though he agreed it was bad).
Some questions will ruin you if you are denied the answer long enough.
Now, let’s talk about these characters. Our troupe is a collection of 6 women. I was thrilled to have an all-female cast! Yet, that bubble was quickly popped. While we might have 6 women, they are wholly troped puppets with no personality. The limited dialogue they do share is horrible. It felt like they were early AI bots reading cue cards in an attempt to affect human interaction. These characters are intentionally given no names, being referred to as ‘the psychologist” and “the surveyor”. This only separated my connection to them even more.
Even worse, as the book progresses, our main-character explores the idea of free-will. Why does that matter? Because she explicitly explains in the beginning that she doesn’t believe in herself as a person. This is an exploration of agency which is incongruous to me. I feel like our protagonists have no meaningful identity. This really put me off of a narrator I would typically love: the unreliable type.
The map had been the first form of misdirection, what is a map but a way of emphasizing some things and making other things invisible?
The book is dripping atmospheric writing. But the writing is SO atmospheric I couldn’t visualize a single thing. There are no references to the world as we know it, so it’s hard to place the setting. The closest things to our reality I can peg are things like flashlights. I don’t see pictures in my head, so overly descriptive writing tends to bore me. In most cases, I at least understand what the author is trying to share. In this case, I felt like I spent the whole novel unable to understand what was happening; lost, bored, and detached.
This leads me to the hook– or the lack thereofof. The premise of the book seems to be around trying to solve the mystery of Area X. And yet, never once did I care about Area X. There was nothing which piqued my interest. I think I might have been intrigued if VanderMeer had not tried so hard. I like the Lovecraftian concepts of “Is this real? Is this a dream? What am I experiencing?”, but instead, everything fell short. It felt like VanderMeer was flirting with ideas and concepts he didn’t quite have the skill to execute on. There are some great ideas here, but nothing is well-explored or even remotely established.
Perhaps my only real expertise, my only talent, is to endure beyond the endurable.
I feel on the whole this covers my largest concerns with Annihilation, but there are others which I won’t touch upon. I don’t want this to turn into something too nit-picky or mean. There are so many people who have completely fallen in love with VanderMeer’s writing (including Natalie Portman, who is starring in this year’s big-screen adaption), I feel like I’ve missed something. Perhaps I am blinded by a poor audiobook narrator? Perhaps the story just isn’t for me, but the writing could be? Due to the high number of variables around my experience, I am willing to read VanderMeer’s works again. But The Southern Reach series and I are done for good. Sorry, friends.
What do you think?
- Have you read Annihilation? What do you think of this novel?
- If you enjoyed this novel, what did I miss?!
- Do you believe narrators make or break audiobooks? What examples have you seen of this? Do you have narrators you avoid above all else now?
- What is the last book you read which you finished reading and did not enjoy at all?
- What do you think, should I try re-reading this book in print?