Book 3 of 52: "The Southern Reach Trilogy" by Jeff Vandermeer

Author’s note: Yes, this is a trilogy of three books; however, if I hope to space out this 52-book challenge over anything close to 52 weeks, it’s going to take some creativity to not advance too quickly.

I can’t recall the last series of books that had me throwing my hands up in the air this many times in frustration… while still wanting to read the next book!  Talk about frustration.  Annoyed, bothered, but with no choice but to continue in hopes of finding answers.

The plot is difficult to even summarize without giving away spoilers, but here’s my best shot:

About thirty years ago, an area of the United States (designated “Area X”) was consumed by an event that barricaded it off from the rest of the world, with only a single doorway, or point of access inside.  Strange things are happening inside, and it has fallen to the government division known as the Southern Reach to figure out what is happening.  The Southern Reach attempts to accomplish this by sending in expeditions, each group trained and conditioned for the best odds of success.

Despite all of this, the agency hasn’t been making much progress.

Although there’s a common core of characters that persist through the whole series, each book takes a different approach, focusing on different characters and a different area.  The downside to this, of course, is that some characters are much more interesting than others.  I was much more interested in what is actually happening inside Area X, as documented in books 1 and 3, than I cared about the dysfunction of the Southern Reach chronicled in book 2.

In addition, my biggest frustration with this series is that, much like in a horror movie, Vandermeer has the ability to paint very descriptive scenes, using beautiful language, without actually telling the audience much about what we want to know.  We learn in great detail about the scenes of nature and the birds and plants that are spotted, but the strange and unnatural buildings that are encountered, and the creatures within, barely get more than a couple very broad strokes of the literary brush.

Instead, as a reader, I found myself wading through pages of flowery and beautiful descriptions in order to find the tiny little nugget of story.  There are many beguiling, interesting threads opened up, but many of them remain frustratingly loose, not tied down or answered.

In the end, I’m still left with far more questions than answers, feeling as if I missed another book’s worth of explanation somewhere, and I need to find that before it all makes sense.

Time to read: Approximately 2.5 hours for the first book and 3.5 hours for the next two; call it 10 hours for the complete series.

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