jeff vandermeer’s the southern reach trilogy: i’m sad this is over because now i won’t be able to experience area x and its mysteries for the first time again. however, i’m sure there are lots of details and connections i missed and that there’s still a lot to discover, so i’m excited to reread these books, now that all three have been published!
this trilogy was loads of fun to read — fun and c r e e p y in all the right ways. the easy comparison is to say that it reminds me of lost, just … done well all the way through to the end, with a concept that didn’t run away with vandermeer or stifle the narrative or the characters. vandermeer had an excellent handle on the story from the beginning all the way through, but not in a way that felt overworked or too controlling — the effort isn’t on the page in the trilogy, and that, i think, says a lot.
one of the things i loved about the trilogy is how there isn’t really a hero, at least not in any traditional i-will-save-the-world-and-solve-these-mysteries way. there’s also no sense of a required salvation or redemption — vandermeer isn’t interested in “saving” anyone, which i appreciated, much like i appreciated that vandermeer isn’t obsessed with the “why” behind things, more just observing and presenting things as they are. all the characters are flawed and isolated in their own ways, some (like the biologist) seeking actual physical isolation, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t somehow connected, that their actions don’t impact the greater world around them. i also loved the obscuring of names and identities (“control,” “ghost bird”) and even the reducing characters to their functions (“the biologist,” “the psychologist,” “the director”), how these reductions become obfuscations and secrets and masks that reinforce isolation and loneliness but don’t lessen the reverberations of individual actions on other’s lives.
throughout the trilogy, vandermeer also does a fantastic job of giving just enough information and being just oblique enough, of striking that balance and supporting it with this wonderful tension that isn’t gimmicky or try-hard or artificial. the entire trilogy is infused in this mood of unease and creepiness that makes the southern reach such a fun, engrossing read that’s also frustrating because there’s so much we don’t know.
vandermeer isn’t stingy with answers or narrative/emotional payoffs, though, peeling layers away gradually (sometimes, while raising more questions). we might not know everything by the end of acceptance, but we know enough with room to continue wondering and pondering, and the characters are delivered to the ends of their arcs in very satisfying ways. i can honestly say that i loved the ending — the last ten pages or so of acceptance are fantastically done — and i closed the book with a sigh, sad to leave this world and these characters behind, to have no more of the southern reach to look forward to, but very satisfied with the adventure and its close.
(also: i read a review that said that it was gimmicky of FSG to release this as a trilogy over a year, but, honestly, i thought that was fantastic. the trilogy is a cohesive narrative, yes, but i think the southern reach is very much a trilogy that should have been told in three books, not only because of the different narrative voices [another thing i loved], but also because of the way vandermeer reveals the story. he was ingenious in the way he used the structure of the trilogy, and FSG did a great job with it, what with the beautiful cover art and design and with the staggered releases in the same calendar year.)
(also: i wrote this up at 2 am while listening to the soundtrack to the village [haven’t seen the movie but the soundtrack is fantastic], and now i am totally creeped out.)