Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer (Southern Reach Trilogy 3)

Publisher: Fourth Estate
Pages: 341
Year: 2014
Buy: Hardback, Kindle
Source: Bought copy

Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeerReview
And so Southern Reach concludes. This is the review of the third novel and of the series as a whole so please do not tread further unless you’ve read Annihilation and Authority.

After the mysterious and horrifyingly beautiful Annihilation, which took us deep into the inverted and animated environment of Area X, Authority took a step back, hiding us for a while in the Southern Reach headquarters outside Area X, listening to Control’s attempts to decipher the enigmatic answers of expedition survivor Ghost Bird as well as cope with the general madness around him. I was pleased to discover that Acceptance, the final novel in the trilogy, takes us back into Area X, now a greatly expanded and unknowable environment. If you’re seeking answers then they must be sought back in Area X in this distorted and alive stretch of Florida coast.

Acceptance is divided among the experiences of several who have come to mean something to us through the course of this trilogy. The Director/Psychologist, so important from the mission we followed in Annihilation, is finally made real to us. The lighthouse keeper, Saul Evans, also becomes real at last. The lighthouse has been central to the mystery throughout all three books, whether in its natural state or unnaturally inverted and buried, and now we are allowed to follow Saul’s experiences from the time when he was normal, a human being with friends and lovers to the moment when everything began to change until he was lost entirely to Area X. Finally we have Ghost Bird and Control, now back in Area X as another expedition, possibly the final expedition.

The Southern Reach trilogy is beautifully written. The environment is haunting, rich, tangible. The creatures that live in it are both frightening and attractive. The walls of buildings and tunnels alike are alive, reproducing themselves, reminding the reader of their connection to something alien and primeval. But in Acceptance we are shown Area X before it began its transformation. This is what has been missing through the previous two novels and it’s welcome indeed.

There are some answers to the questions that have accumulated during Annihilation and Authority but they are by no means complete. It’s good to learn more about the Director – we at last hear proper names – and she becomes a much more sympathetic figure. Control, however, is the opposite. After drawing close to him in Authority, we are now pulled further away. He and Ghost Bird must deal with the final act and that, inevitably so it seems, means they pull away from us. What was far more interesting to me was the beginning – I loved the story of Saul the lighthouse keeper.

Acceptance moves between the different voices, shifting in tense, person and mood. This created, for me at least, an uneasy, disjointed narrative. Although there are glimpses into things not fully understood (not least, the strange organisation that is using the lighthouse for its studies) this didn’t matter because this is not a trilogy I expected to end with all my questions answered. However, while I was captivated by the sections involving Saul and Grace, I lost interest very rapidly in Control and Ghost Bird. Unfortunately, this had the side-effect of making me rather cross with Authority in which they are central.

I have mixed feelings about this trilogy. I enjoyed Annihilation very much indeed but the issues I had with Authority meant that I lost my way by the time I reached Acceptance. I believe that the three books would have been much better served as three parts of one novel. They would also have been much more affordable. When I read Acceptance, despite my fascination in Saul and Grace, I had the strange sensation that this was a novel in which mystery was being pursued for the sake of mystery. There would be no attempt to answer my questions, not much at all would even happen. I would be presented with more of the beautiful wonders of Area X, made more stunning and altered than before, but I must appreciate it for how it appears and not for what it means.

The Southern Reach trilogy is original, thought-provoking and, above all, atmospheric, brutal and beautiful. But at the end of it all, after three short books published within the year (which together cost me well over £30), I was left with the question of whether I wished I had embarked on the journey at all.

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4 thoughts on “Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer (Southern Reach Trilogy 3)

  1. David

    I can see how you might feel like that. I agree that reading the three parts together would probably be a better experience (at least, a very different one). I began to see that when Vandermeer pointed out that scenes in Authority echo those in Annihilation – and I realised I’d have to read all three parts again (which I still haven’t done).

    However I think I enjoyed Authority the most – I work in a bureacracy, it was good to see one subverted, baulked, fungified! – and I liked the sparring with Ghost Bird. That was an interesting relationship.

    So I’m glad I read these, but uneasily aware that it isn’t over yet…

    1. Kate (For Winter Nights) Post author

      I had a big problem with this – after Authority it was difficult for me to motivate myself to read Acceptance. If they’d been together I would have moved on naturally to the next part. I liked elements in all three. But as a whole I wasn’t inspired enough. I did like Authority as a book but I couldn’t judge it on its own merits. Thanks for commenting, David!

  2. fromcouchtomoon

    I very much agree with your criticism of the release format of these novels. It’s a complaint I have also shared and it’s nice to see that others feel the same way.

    It was recently released as an omnibus edition (in the same year!), so I can’t help but see it as yet another marketing tactic. I suspect next year, we’ll get the illustrated version, and after that, the abridged and illustrated version…

    1. Kate (For Winter Nights) Post author

      Thanks for the comment! I’m glad it’s not just me, too! I know I shouldn’t be so cynical but I did feel it would’ve been better to bring them out together – and not after everyone had already bought the three separately!


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