Well, that was unexpected.
I don’t know why I had the idea that Acceptance would answer all my questions from the riveting Annihilation and Authority, the first two novels in the phenomenal unlike-anything-I’ve-ever-read Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer. It’s the done thing, you know, that trilogies wrap things up, answer the questions, and let’s the reader toddle off knowing and satisfied.
Vandermeer is far too clever, far too original for that. This is not a traditional trilogy, it was not written to answer question but to provoke them. It is not about figuring things out but convincing us that sometimes we just can’t know, sometimes the questions are too big, too broad and far beyond our ken.
“What stood out from what I tossed on the compost heap seemed to come from a different sort of intelligence entirely. This mind or these minds asked questions and did not seem interested in hasty answers, did not care if one question birthed six more and if, in the end, none of those six questions led to anything concrete.”
This is Acceptance in a nutshell and what our acceptance must be is to concede there are, to borrow from the infamous Donald Rumsfeld, a lot of known unknowns and even more unknown unknowns. How can we understand if we cannot even form the questions, we don’t even have the vocabulary to craft the questions.
Acceptance brings back the biologist from Annihilation as well as the psychologist/director. From Authority, Vandermeer brings back Control and Grace. Another key character in Authority is the lighthouse keeper. The narrative moves from one to the other, advancing the story, adding to the suspense, the eeriness and the weirdness. The sinister Lowry is also back as well as some strange, strange investigators. They all reveal more and more, but it seems we know less and less.
But there are sea monsters. Oh my, the most amazing sea monster ever.
“Nothing monstrous existed here—only beauty, only the glory of good design, of intricate planning, from the lungs that allowed this creature to live on land or at sea, to the huge gill slits hinted at along the sides, shut tightly now, but which would open to breathe deeply of seawater”
And that is what is so fascinating, so compelling and so fabulous about the Southern Reach trilogy. I know it breaks the rules and does not wrap things up in a bow, but who needs bows when questions are so much better.
I recommend you read the entire trilogy in one fell swoop. I read it in three separate instances, waiting far too long for the last one to come up from the Library Hold list. It took a bit to fall back into the right frame of mind for reading it and if I had read it all at once, it would have been seamless. It is a series that requires you toss out your expectation and accept that the most wonderful mysteries are the ones you never completely know.