Acceptance is the third and final installment of Jeff VanderMeer’s The Southern Reach Trilogy. It picks up almost immediately where the second book, Authority, leaves off but continues the story in a narrative style different from the first two books. In Acceptance, the mysteries of Area X and the fate of the Southern Reach agency are revealed through the voices of four different narrators, namely, Control, Ghost Bird, the former Southern Reach director, and the lighthouse keeper. Control and Ghost Bird alternate in telling the story in the present; of what happens to them right after the events mentioned at the end of Authority as well as the fates of the agency and all its members. The former director, who was the psychologist in the 12th and last expedition into Area X, relates the past events at the Southern Reach agency leading up to the deployment of the 12th expedition, including her personal connection to Area X and interest in joining the team. Finally, Saul, the lighthouse keeper from before Area X became what it is, talks about his relationships with the other residents of the coast and members of the Seance and Science Brigade, which is a pseudoscientific group inexplicably interested in the lens of the lighthouse. This combination of multiple narratives as well as the retelling of events from different times, that is, the present and the past, make Acceptance a captivating read while maintaining the level of weirdness introduced in the first novel.
I can’t really say much about Acceptance without giving it away, but suffice it to say that the novel has a lot of surprises up its sleeves and thankfully more interesting and riveting than Authority. Comparing the three novels, Acceptance comes closest to matching the intensity and storytelling quality of Annhiliation. Unfortunately, while Control and Ghost Bird try to make sense of the present and the Director and Saul give readers a glimpse into what happened in the past, neither is enough to explain the mysterious phenomenon that created and transformed Area X and everyone in it.
As a whole, The Southern Reach Trilogy is unique in its weirdness, but as separate novels, I feel that Annihilation is superior to the two succeeding installments. I think it can stand on its own, and readers need not read the other two books in the series because sadly, doing so will not give them the answers they seek. The trilogy is bizarre, shocking, disturbing, and intense and does not yield its secrets easily. So if you’re easily disturbed or like closure, I would recommend you stay away from this novel. However, if you’re looking for a strange…and I mean STRANGE story that is not too preoccupied with trying to explain itself or reveal anything, then this book might just be your cup of tea. Give it a try, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Acceptance (2014) – Book 3 of The Southern Reach Trilogy – Jeff VanderMeer
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux (FSG Originals); 338 pages (tpb)
Personal rating: 3/5