This not going to be a good review, but fuck it I will try to do this amazing book justice. So first to start off, I have red VanerMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy and can tell you that these books are extremely weird and launch the readers into a world that is sometimes hard to comprehend. This style of cosmic horror is fascinating to say the least and it enthralls me every time I picked up one of his novels.
The story is set in an post-apocalyptic universe, where most of the story takes place in an unnamed city that is full Lovecraftian biotech horrors. From a giant bear named Mord who can fly, to deformed children who derive pleasure from torturing and killing people who unlucky enough to come across them. The name of the book derives from what a scavenger named Rachel finds in the ruins of the city one day, a purple sea anemone type creature that seems to be a shy otherworldly being that grows to consume vast amounts of biomass while trying to understand what it is. Rachel takes this being and nurtures it almost like a son, the parts of the book where Borne tries to understand what he is and what the world is are something that I never thought I would be reading at 20 years old.
What I mean is that whenever VanderMeer explores these themes of a being exploring a world that to us seems so dilapidated and full of nothing but horror and death, is truly something I have to give credit and admiration towards. Especially since most of the time, there are passages in the book where I have to re-read them due to such beautiful phrasing, and of the most touching examples was when Rachel says:
Borne’s absence had simplified something in the Balcony Cliffs. It simplified me and Wick, and this made everyday life duller or leeched of some essential, stormy spectrum of color, made me think of myself as not quite alive. I often felt chastened and small and useless. But there was also the moment-to-moment relief of life being closer to what it actually was, with less pretense. Even this might have been an illusion, but everything a kind of illusion in the end.pg 203
A glittering reef of stars, spread out phosphorescent, and each one might have life on it, planets revolving around them. There might even be people like us, looking at the night sky. It was what my mother said sometimes-to be mindful that the universe beyond still existed, that we did not know what lived there, and it might be terrible to reconcile ourselves to knowing so little of it, but that didn’t mean it stooped existing. There was something else beyond all this, that would never know us or our struggles, never care, and that it would go on without us. My mother had found that idea comforting.pg 109
In my opinion most of the passages in this book that describe the setting and its characters are fantastic and I wish I could write them all down without getting a copyright claim against me. The tone of the novel is also really complex as it deals with senses of dread, melancholy, excitement, hope, and most importantly bewilderment. This story is just so bizarre but also incredibly engaging to read, every page is something new and twists and turns by the main character Rachel really has you imagining yourself in her situation. Which is exactly what you want from this new era of weird fiction written by these new authors who have lived through a new age of technological advancement.
I will not give a complete rundown of the book, but I will recommend it to anyone looking for an eye opening read. This novel barely came out in 2017 and I do sincerely hope that it does get a movie adaptation like VanderMeer’s other work Annihilation, which did stand on its own two feet, but after reading the novels, to me they missed a couple marks that I will get to in another review of that trilogy on its own.
Look I know that if this book does the attention that it rightfully deserves, we may see Paramount make a movie adaptation, but I am positive that they will have to scrape a lot of the source material down, as the imagery described in this novel was way too much even for me to handle. Perhaps they can do a good job, but hey all in all this book was a great little novel to read this summer and I am satisfied with its conclusion, even if I can see that it will rub some people the wrong way. It is a story of hope and horror, of life and death, of alien and human emotions, but the core is still the same. It is a book about trying to be a person in a horrific world and trying to piece oneself together and being true through the suffering and the tragedies of life.