Once again, Vandermeer astonishes me with evocative, symbolic language:
“The fifth morning I rose from the grass and dirt and sand, the brightness had gathered to form a hushed second skin over me, that skin cracking from my opening eyes like the slightest, the briefest, touch of an impossibly thin later of ice. I could hear the fracturing of its melting as if it came from miles and years away.”
And once again, Area X takes center stage in the last book of The Southern Reach Trilogy. The narrative switches between Ghost Bird and Control, last met in Authority; Saul, the lighthouse keeper; the psychologist Gloria, and perhaps one or two others that slip in. The narrative is done well enough that the separate voices do not feel disjointed, but I warn you: pay attention to chapter titles, as they say who is speaking. The story also flows back and forth in time, filling in the stories of people introduced, backgrounds and events alluded to but never explained. The insight into characterization provides more interest than in it did in the first two books; thankfully so, as the plotting explodes, much like a cell line on the upswing of reproduction (apparently a recent TED talk on angiogenesis is leaking in).
“You note again not just the musculature of this woman but the fact that she’s willing to complicate even the simple business of stating her name. ”
As the capstone to a trilogy, it has mixed success. I understand a number of the metaphors and plot connections being made, but I wasn’t sure the gestalt was worth the effort. Yet as I randomly flipped back through the book looking for sections that had stood out (unsurprisingly, I had lost my sticky-note), I was caught again into reading long passages, first hooked by the writing and then pulled deeper by glimpsing hints to the puzzle of Area X.
But here’s the thing: there were also long passages that made me quite sleepy, and, as usual, I have a number of other non-book things at that periphery of my consciousness, peeping for attention. If I would have loved this, it may have been worth a re-read to better understanding of the genesis of Area X and the relationship the characters have with it. But it isn’t, not right now. Still, the writing is something special, as well as the concept, and I can always get behind a good environmental message. I recommend it, with the caveats that you are wide awake and in the mood for ambiguity and metaphor.
‘I can’t go down there,’ Whitby says, in such a final way that he must be thinking that in the descent he would no longer be Whitby. The hollows of his face, even in that vibrant, late-summer light, make him look haunted by a memory he hasn’t had yet.”