Recommended: not really…..
Recommended for highly metaphoric and visual language and an unreliable narrator. Not recommended for a coherent plot, not for a quick or easy read, not for readers who prefer linear or stable stories, not for people who think “the book is always better than the movie”
Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer. This is the twelfth expedition. Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself. They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.
Oh wow, was this very much not for me. The nature of it is to focus on incoherent ramblings, and VanderMeer nailed that. Unfortunately for me, that’s not something I enjoy or found interest or meaning in. It was just exhausting meaningless gibberish — which was exactly as intended? I don’t know anymore. I’m just exhausted.
Skimmed the last 30% of this to see if anything concrete happened or what, and it kind of did but by that point I was too tired and lost to care. Which, in a way, somewhat reflects the experiences of many in Area X.
It wasn’t scary. It wasn’t compelling. It wasn’t surprising.
Basically: this is an incredibly vague book, so be really prepared to have things make no sense and get metaphorical and weird.
And PS: no, it’s nothing like the movie.
Just a little addition here to say that if you are considering reading this < 200 page book as a way to help meet your end of the year book goal? Probably don’t, unless it really sounds like your style. The language is so twisting and the book is so cerebral overall that it does not read quickly at all. This felt like a 400+ page slog for me. Honestly I’m stunned at how long the book blurb is considering how much it felt like there was nothing actually in it.
I also read this to try and challenge myself with something a bit different, and as part of a reading challenge. Otherwise… I probably would have DNFd it. As it was, I skimmed a lot towards the end, which is uncommon for me.
And hey: I’m clearly not the only one getting this impression. 😂