Acceptance is the third and concluding chapter of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy. Once again, we dive into the mysteries of Area X and we dive one level deeper than the previous books.
If you haven’t read this one yet, I’ll try to keep the factual information to a minimum. We all know that the joy of these books is going in and wondering what the next piece of the puzzle will be. In general, if you liked both Annihilation and Authority, then you will like this one as well. Many people are a bit put off by the change in setting and theme of book 2, and say what you will about the topic of that book, but Jeff Vandermeer’s quality writing did not go down. Acceptance has the same quality, so that makes it worth reading.
Three plot lines comprise this book. The first one, very interesting, is about Saul the lighthouse keeper. It is set at the time before Area X and introduces some of the first decisive moments when strange things started happening. The second one follows the biologist, who calls herself Ghost Bird, and Control as they traverse Area X, and the third one follows the psychologist as she explores Area X at an earlier date.
Vandermeer puts a lot of stress on descriptions of nature. He is very precise in mentioning all the bird species and vegetation and how the light shines on the water and land, as if it all demands recognition. This is not just the perspective of the biologist, but a theme that runs through the entire series. It is like Area X is on the side of nature and represents some sort of comeuppance against the artificiality of the human world. Add to that the failure of human science and of machines to deal with the area. Nature is simultaneously our home and our roots, and a danger to shield us from. It is attraction and danger combined, and so is Area X itself.
The people in the book, meanwhile, are all lonely, scared and in conflict with each other. They are trapped behind professional roles in organizations and fundamentally detached, discontent and distrustful. Only the biologist seems self-contained with some stable inner source of strength, but only because of her inner talent of merging with the environment, which makes her more part of nature than of humanity.
Acceptance follows closely on part 2, Authority. But if you read both books back to back, then Acceptance becomes a bit… repetitive near the end. Our people are endlessly trudging through Area X and struggling with the fact that they can’t really comprehend it, but we have heard this again and again in each chapter. In the final quarter of the story, I am ready to leave Area X behind and move on to another book.
Although Vandermeer tries his best, the sense of wonder and thrill of Annihilation does not return in books 2 and 3. That is inevitable though, because once Vandermeer starts feeding little answers to us, the mystery starts fading. And when it is the mystery itself that pushes our buttons, then any explanation feels a bit like “oh… ok. Well, now it is explained but that didn’t really make me feel excited”.
Towards the end, the trilogy gets lost in endless self-referencing. It is folding in on itself, as if Vandermeer can’t stop talking about the same topics again and again. As the page count is mounting, our patience with a mystery disappears. But while the mystery is slowly replaced by revelations, the overall excitement goes down.