BOOK REVIEW: ACCEPTANCE / AUTHOR: JEFF VANDERMEER / PUBLISHER: FOURTH ESTATE / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 2ND
Acceptance is the third in Jeff VanderMeer’s masterful, genre-hopping Southern Reach Trilogy. Perhaps the strongest of the three, it is concise but never robotic, intelligent yet never pretentious and frightening but always beautiful. As well as bringing the ambitious story arc to a conclusion, it provides a fresh context with which to consider the previous two novels, like a scientific discovery undermining a commonly held belief.
One of VanderMeer’s strengths, and indeed one of the highlights of the novel, is the balance between the metaphysical and personal. As in its predecessors, the character development is both subtle and devastating, making you contemplate many of the protagonists in different ways.
This time around, however, the novel makes room for a wider cast of characters instead of following a single unreliable narrator, painting a broader picture of Area X and the Southern Reach. The chapters are headed by characters' names, opening up with a second person narrative. While it’s often a poorly deployed gimmick, VanderMeer uses second person to its fullest effect, just as Iain Banks did in Complicity.
Despite the Phycologist, Ghost Bird and Control all being absorbing characters, it’s the lighthouse keeper, Saul, who is perhaps the most compelling of the entire trilogy. The grace and pathos with which VanderMeer tells Saul’s story is enviable.
Acceptance is the most expansive of the trilogy, revisiting the past, pre-Annihilation, and going some way to explaining the strange phenomenon of Area X. Anyone expecting an out-and-out conclusion will be disappointed. It’s a bold and daring novel which spits in the face of traditional structure, and it drives home the fact that The Southern Reach Trilogy is as much a concept as it is a fulfilling read; part H.P. Lovecraft, part J.G. Ballard, all VanderMeer.