Acceptance – by Jeff VanderMeer

Third and last part of the Southern Reach series, Acceptance is meant to give closure to a narration that is, by its very nature, elusive and disconcerting. Once again, I went in expecting no answer, but ready to enjoy all of its impossible questions.

Title: Acceptance

Author: Jeff VanderMeer

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Publication Date: 2 September 2014

Genre: Science Fiction Novel

Stand Alone or Series: Third Book of the Southern Reach Trilogy

Synopsis: Acceptance jumps between different timelines, perspectives, plot arcs.

One of the storylines catches up where Authority had left us – with Control and Ghost Bird venturing once again into Area X, furthering their investigation and figuring out, among other things, the final fate of the biologist, of whom Ghost Bird is a copy .

At the same time, parallel narrations take us back in time, showing us glimpses of the origin and development of Area X. Thus, we get better acquainted with Saul Evans, the lighthouse keeper already mentioned in Annhilation, who lived in the area at the time of its first transformation, and who ends up being turned into the creature known as the Crawler .

We also meet the psychologist at a younger age, finding our more about her previous (and secret) endeavours in Area X, and about the reasons that eventually drove her to join the last expedition, despite being aware of its unfavourable odds.

Analysis: Acceptance is told through different perspectives, alternating first, second and third person according to the chosen point of view. The narration is much more fractured than in the previous books of the series; while we can roughly identify a “main” plot in the one that furthers the investigation we’ve been following up to this point, equally relevant are the stories set in the past, as they end up revealing different angles of the same scenery.

As expected, the novel doesn’t give any complete solution to the mystery on which the entire series is based. It does, however, provide us with some answers to more specific questions, as well as revealing additional secrets about its characters. The structure of the book, built as a composite mechanism that makes you wonder how all its parts are connected, until at least some of them happen to “click”, enhances the impression of being about to understand, on the verge of figuring out some larger truth – except that in the end such a truth once again eludes us, or has never existed in the first place.

Thematically consistent with the previous volumes, Acceptance brings the loss of self to its final outcome in all its ambiguous appeal, and leaves us with some ominous perspective on the possible fate of humankind as a whole. Even more than a narrative conclusion to the series, Acceptance is, for lack of better terms, its proper poetic culmination – and this as a result of its style just as much as of its content. The first book, in fact, showed us Area X from the inside, through the subjective perception of a deeply involved character; the second book, on the other hand, moved us outside of the area, focusing on structure and literal authority (and of course on their inevitable failure). Now in Acceptance all such distinctions are lost, time and space are out their proper order, and in all ways we get the impression that the boundaries of Area X, as well as of common logic, are broken beyond repair.

Conclusions & Recommendations: If you’ve appreciated Annihilation and Authority because of their unique themes and writing, you’re going to love Acceptance just as much. On the other hand if you’ve been reading up to this point hoping for a complete, satisfactory explanation to all its mysteries… well, it’s hard to break it to you, but it’s not like I had not warned you beforehand.

Content Warning: Body horror – Death – Violence – Illness – Animal death

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